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|DID GRACELAND ORDER PROFILING?
August 17, 2016 - Various / Elvis Express Radio
|Did Graceland officials have the right to determine who could walk up Elvis Presley Boulevard during the protest staged in conjunction with the annual Candlelight Vigil on Monday
The short answer: It's unclear.
That question became prominent on Tuesday after Memphis police officials confirmed that Graceland security instructed officers on which people to allow through a series of
barricades and which to keep back.
Several of the protesters who were nominally affiliated with local Black Lives Matter causes attempted to walk toward Graceland on the closed-off but still-public street, but were
prevented from doing so by police officers manning the barricades. Three were arrested.
While the permit issued shows that Elvis Presley Enterprises was granted permission to close a portion of the street that runs in front of Graceland, it says nothing about preventing
access to the public.
City Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen first said that Graceland's permit didn't give it the authority to close any public spaces to the public, unlike the permit Memphis in May has to
close Tom Lee Park.
Later, though, McMullen clarified his opinion to say that the permit-holder "can ask the police to remove anyone from the permitted area." He did not specify where that opinion
McMullen added that the city has the authority to place on the time and place of a protest to ensure public safety.
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway and state Sen. Lee Harris asked city officials to address what they said sounds like racial profiling..."If that
street is blocked off and a crowd is allowed to enter — an Elvis Presley crowd that may be humming Elvis Presley tunes — then another crowd that is chanting "black lives matter"
must also enter. Doesn't matter what their race is," Harris said at the press conference. "We can't have members of the public thinking that chanting 'black lives matter' is different or
more heavily regulated than singing an Elvis hymn. It is not."
To illustrate their point, the legislators introduced two women who attended the protest: Elaine Blanchard, who is white, and Pearl Walker, who is black.
"These two ladies, here for the same reason, but they were treated differently because of race," Hardaway said.
Blanchard said she was hungry and decided to leave early, but had to cross the barricades to reach her car.
"I threw my leg over the barricade and a Graceland security officer came over and gave me a hand, lifted my elbow and helped me over the barricade," she said. "The police could
clearly see that a white woman who had been with the protesters was climbing over the barricade, and no one stopped me."
But Walker, who said she was there both for the vigil and the protest, received different treatment, she said.
"I tried to go past as well. They just kept coming up on us physically saying, 'Move, move,'" she said. "I didn't receive a reason as to why we could not pass."
Graceland officials did not return telephone calls, but released this statement: "Graceland is very appreciative of the tremendous efforts of law enforcement to maintain the peace,
and that the annual Candlelight Vigil — an event permitted by the city of Memphis — was able to take place as scheduled.
"Our main concern throughout all of this was the safety and security of all attendees: visitors from around the world, protesters and our employees. We are grateful that everyone
stayed safe throughout the evening."
However, it seems that not only protesters were blocked from getting close to Graceland.
Jeffrey Wolfe was one of several black Elvis fans who approached the police lines at around 6 p.m. and was denied entry to the vigil as other mostly white citizens were also
questioned and allowed to join the vigil.
“I’m not with the protest,” he said when stopped by police.
“Graceland does not want you here,” a police officer told him.
“I was profiled,” Wolfe said later. “I come to the vigil every few years. I love Elvis.”
Mr. Wolfe said the experience had made him a protester as he stood in the large open space behind a fence on the southern border of Graceland Plaza that police set aside as an
area for protesters.
City Council member Berlin Boyd said police appeared to be relying on the permit Graceland got for the vigil to deny entry to protesters. That despite the vigil being open to the
“I think Graceland was extremely smart and brilliant in pulling the permit for all of this area,” said Boyd, who said his role was to be a representative of the city and hear concerns
Boyd was also trying to ease some of the tensions as police and protesters faced off several times at the Craft Road intersection.
Asked if it was proper for police to tell someone they didn’t believe that person, and deny them entry to the vigil if they said they were there to attend the vigil, Boyd said, “Profiling
individuals as to what they are doing – I think Elvis had a gamut of supporters … I think that kind of profiling is unacceptable.”
An hour into the protest, at around 7 p.m., a group of 13 white protesters who made it past the police lines and who had been waiting at least an hour began chanting “Black lives
They began walking toward the police lines and police briefly pondered whether to arrest them. Instead they let them through, herding them onto the other side of the police line in a
funnel onto Craft Road.
Several other protesters were escorted out of the vigil area by police at around 9:30 p.m.
The protest remained noisy as the vigil program got underway, But by about 10pm, hard rain thinned the ranks of most of the protesters just when things appeared to be getting a
little more volatile.
Found on Elvis Matters is this little piece written by serving Memphis Police officer James Schmedes about this rather strange coincidence.. ... "So there we were, about a block
south of Graceland. The call had come down for the riot team to move into position, the protesters were getting out of hand.
So we dressed in as the rain began to fall and got into position. The line looked like some kind of modern day Roman legion with armor of plastic and Kevlar instead of leather and
bronze. Hickory sticks and pistols took the place of sword and spear.
We stood there waiting for the order to move up. Ready to go and feeling that anticipation before the action, time seemed to stand still for a moment when lightning cracked across
the sky above us.
Imagine, just at the second when things are going to get hairy four things happen at once.
1. Lightning flashes.
2. From behind us Elvis starts singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight".
3. The rain comes down by the bucket and everyone is drenched instantly.
4. The crowd disperses.
So I ask you, did Elvis stop the violence that was about to break loose in front of his home? This was a scene from a movie and very cool to be a part of.
The other officers standing next to me felt the same way, it was surreal. I've never been a real Elvis fan but I think I am now!"
Earlier in the day, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said there is a right to expression through protest, but that police have the ability to set aside an area where that can
“We do anticipate some individuals who may exercise their right to free speech,” he said. “We will expect all conduct to be lawful.”
“It’s much bigger than a novelty to most,” he said of the Elvis tribute and the crowds that come each year to participate in it. “These individuals come to participate in the candlelight
vigil to honor the life and mourn the death of Elvis Presley.”
Meanwhile, Rallings denied police were targeting leaders of the movement.
Three leaders of the July 10 bridge protest have been arrested on warrants since the protest.
Devante Hill, Joseph Kyles and Frank Gottie have all been arrested on charges unrelated to the protests.
Hill was arrested in connection with a 2013 theft report he made after police said he sold a laptop on Craig’s List and then reported it as stolen. Rallings said police acted on the
warrant after talk radio show host Ben Ferguson mentioned it on air.
Kyles and Gottie were arrested on assault charges the same day that the alleged incidents were reported in calls to police.
Rallings said all three were arrested based on calls to police and formal complaints.
“We do not target individuals,” he said. “We respond to calls for service and we will continue to uphold the law.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland expressed confidence in the police plan.
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