The Memphis, Tennessee Police Department is threatening to demote dozens of African American police officers simply because they are standing up to racism in the department. Officials with the Memphis police say that African American cops would be forced to pay back money they earned after receiving promotions if they don’t back down from their claims against the department.
The Memphis Police Department has had a decades-long history of being criticized for their racism and discriminatory practices against African Americans in and off the police force. In recent decades, African American officers have claimed that they were deliberately passed up for promotions when they had been on the job longer, and had better records than some of the people who they were passed over for.
We have found records of such allegations, documented as far back as 1979. But by the early 2000s, a lawsuit against the department seemed to put a dent in the unwritten racist policies of the southern department.
A number of African American officers sued the department and won. They claimed that police officials used racially discriminatory tests in order to determine who would be promoted.
The African American officers challenged the test in 2006, which resulted in a district court ruling that the new test was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it illegal for any employer to discriminate against employees based on race… That includes police departments.
After that decision, we started to finally see some African American cops promoted, but many still were not. Last fall, however, a federal appeals court over turned the lower court’s decision.
Officers are still able to continue the legal battle on appeal, but the city has said that if they do, they should be prepared for immediate demotion and suit for back pay. All of the money they have earned in their positions above the rate of an average beat cop would be required for repayment to the department if they continue to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nearly 30 of the 62 plaintiffs are facing these threats.
“The city wants to give an ultimatum: If you all continue on, we’re going to demote you back to patrolman,” Lt. Tyrone Currie, the treasurer of the Afro American Police Association Memphis branch said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “You should not retaliate against people just because they’re exercising their constitutional right to an appeal.”
Legal expert Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at Pennsylvania State University, was shocked by the threats, saying it “doesn’t seem like the right result,”
Bagenstos said that the city is “interpreting what the court has said as giving them the authority to do what they want to do.”