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Opponents push back against Shelby County’s move to end federal oversight of local juvenile court

Tami Sawyer, NAACP political action chair, speaks at a recent protest in favor of federal oversight of Memphis' juvenile court.


Community leaders from the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP, Stand for Children, and the Memphis Grassroots Organizing Coalition gathered outside of the Shelby County Administration building Downtown on June 21 in response to a letter authored by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Judge Dan Michael asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end oversight of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County.

They letter has also received support from District Attorney Amy Weirich and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings.

If the attorney general considers ending federal oversight of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, it could end a five-year relationship.

The Department of Justice and Shelby County entered into a Memorandum of Agreement in 2012 after an investigation found disproportionate treatment of black juveniles and violations of due process.

Shelby County Commissioner Melvin Burgess walked out of a meeting with Shelby County Mark Luttrell over Luttrell’s endorsement of a letter asking for the DOJ to retreat from the memorandum’s requirements.

Commissioner Burgess said they were left in the dark about the move to end oversight and calls for the authors to feel compassion for the victims of the juvenile justice system.

“I want to make sure our young men are getting a fair shake,” said Burgess.

“This is all a part of our crime issue. Until we address (the juvenile justice system), until we address education, no three people in this county have the right … to make sure this oversight goes away,”

Rev. Earle Fisher of the MGOC referenced the letter and the increase in police force sought by county and city officials as means to perpetuating the mass incarceration, disproportionately of people of color.

“The mayor (Shelby County Mayor Luttrell) states that they believe they had made ‘solid and incredible gains’ in support of the children in juvenile detention. We do not believe that is true,” said NAACP political action chair Tami Sawyer.

“Requesting to be removed from federal monitoring early is saying we are okay with failing our kids. Our juvenile system is getting an F and (the letter writers) are asking that Memphis cronyism make that ok. Our children deserve an A.”

Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer. A Memphian since matriculating at Rhodes College in 2008, she has also been a contributor for the Choose901 blog. 
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