A letter from Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality (H.O.P.E.):
In the past weeks, we at Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality (H.O.P.E.) have witnessed actions by certain members of the Memphis Police Department and private security guards employed by our public transit system (MATA) that force us to ask the question: “HAVE YOU LOST YOUR EVER-LOVING MIND?!”
We watched our friend, a community organizer with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, get arrested for filming an unjust arrest of a volunteer worker for Manna House, a service provider of homeless services on Jefferson Avenue. This building and its property is a place of hospitality, and it is considered a church, and as such, it is a sanctuary. A similar violation at other churches in our city (Bellevue Baptist, Mississippi Boulevard, Idlewild Presbyterian or any of the other fine churches) would bring a massive uproar. We ask that all other churches in our great city stand with this small institution and protest this illegal, unjustified, and immoral persecution by rogue members of the Memphis Police Department.
Furthermore, incidents have been reported to H.O.P.E. concerning the illegal harassment of vendors for Memphis’s new street newspaper called The Bridge. For people who do not know, The Bridge was started and is published by Rhodes College students. Stories and articles are written by people who have formerly experienced homeless or are currently experiencing homelessness. Some articles are also written by Rhodes College student staff. Vendors have gone through sales training to become distributors of The Bridge, and their sales are covered by our First Amendment rights.
For those who have forgotten their civics lessons, let us refresh your memory:
The Bill of Rights, Amendment I
Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly and Petition.
“Congress shall make no law, respecting and establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The vendors of The Bridge are upholding a grand American tradition, granted to them by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This is the Freedom of the Press! It is more than just the right of ‘We The People’ to write and publish freely, but also the right to freely distribute that which we have printed. While the distribution of newspapers cannot infringe on the rights of others, such as the right to private property, the right to sell newspapers in the public space free from government interference is a solid American tradition. So solid, in fact, that Thomas Jefferson felt that the newspaper was more important to the freedom of the country than the government itself. He wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The Bridge is a street newspaper. A street newspaper is defined by the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) as a newspaper that primarily addresses issues related to poverty and homelessness and is distributed by poor or homeless vendors. Thus, our mission is not only to educate by word and image but also to introduce our readers to the poor and homeless members of our community who sell the paper.
Vendors: The police have no authority to keep you from selling your papers on public property. Always wear your vendor badge!
Mayor Wharton and our City Council need to acknowledge whether these 1st Amendment violations against the poor and homeless in our city are city policy or the actions of rogue officers. If rogue officers are to blame, then they need to be removed from the Police force. This needs to be done quickly, before our great city (already broken) is forced to pay settlements of lawsuits that are sure to come because of violations of our rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution!
The last incident happened at MATA Bus Terminal on North Main Street, Monday 10/21/13. Simply put, a H.O.P.E. member spoke up in support of a young man whom was being cursed, threatened and verbally humiliated in front of his 4 year-old daughter by a private security guard employed by MATA. This guard needed to be called to task for his out-of-control and abusive behavior. This guard threatened our member with arrest, told him that he also works in the jail at 201 Poplar, and promised that after being arrested, our member would have to deal with him inside the jail.
This member of H.O.P.E. has been riding MATA busses for 17 years and says he has never witnessed such abusive and threatening behavior. Police were called and he was banned for life from MATA property, at this guard’s discretion. What it amounts to is that MATA, which is fully funded by our tax dollars and run by a private company, is allowing a private security guard to selectively punish citizens who speak out against this type of behavior. Once again, this freedom to speak out falls under the 1st Amendment, which guarantees “Freedom of Speech.” As this is being written, we can just imagine the lawyers, counting their percentage of those lawsuits.
As this member’s 9th grade civics teacher, Mrs. Smith, taught him: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”
Memphis, stand up against these types of abuse–Next Time It Could Be You!
If you believe you are the victim of police harassment please contact Paul Garner Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at firstname.lastname@example.org by email at