close
close

Tennessee Rep. Calls Memphis Preemption Bill Worse Than “Overreach” • Tennessee Lookout

A Memphis state representative calls a preemption bill signed into law by the governor more than a case of “overreach” as it rolls back efforts to stop “pretextual” traffic stops like those that led to the motorist’s death Tire Nichols in 2023.

“Once again, the majority is more concerned with being patriarchal and telling us poor people in Memphis and Shelby County how to live and taking the authority given to them by the voters and making it truly moot,” the Democratic state representative said Monday. G. A. Hardaway.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly this year passed legislation prohibiting the Memphis City Council from conducting “pretextual” stops, including those for a defective taillight. Arrests would only be allowed for “primary” violations.

The Legislature’s action came after Nichols’ parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, worked with Memphis officials to crack down on stereotypes that can turn into violent incidents.

Nichols died in January 2023 after being stopped for reckless driving and then beaten by police officers. The death sparked local calls for a federal investigation into Memphis police policies.

Once again, the majority is more concerned with being patriarchal and telling us poor people in Memphis and Shelby County how to live and taking the authority given to them by the voters and making it truly moot.

– Representative GA Hardaway, Democrat of Memphis

Gov. Bill Lee said last week that he spoke with Ms. Wells during this year’s session as she lobbied against the bill. He noted that he appreciated her ability to express her views passionately without being disrespectful and even found her approach “inspiring.”

However, he signed the bill which she opposed anyway, noting that she did not agree with his views on the legislation.

Five police officers were charged in connection with Nichols’ death and one pleaded guilty in November 2023 to federal and state charges.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Memphis police practices continues, according to Hardaway, who sought the federal investigation into police policy after helping lead a local group that compiled police statistics.

The Wells family could not be reached for comment on the governor’s decision to sign the bill. But during the 2023 session, Ms. Wells said she felt the police were “harassing the black citizens of Memphis.” Her husband maintained that police are “discriminating” against people of color and, as a result, “too many parents are going through what we are going through, senseless.”

The legislation reversing Memphis’ traffic stop ordinance was sponsored by Republican Sen. Brent Taylor of Memphis and Republican Rep. John Gillespie of Memphis.

Rep. John Gillespie called for a vote on a measure that limits local officials' ability to monitor police traffic stops.  (Photo: Juan Partipilo)
Rep. John Gillespie called for a vote on a measure that limits local officials’ ability to monitor police traffic stops. (Photo: Juan Partipilo)

Gillespie also spoke to the Wells family during this year’s session, but moved forward with his bill when they were not present, saying those who oppose the state’s traffic laws should change them instead of “enacting local ordinances that are in conflict with state law.” Gillespie was criticized for bringing the bill to a House vote several days after the Wells family visited the state Capitol to lobby against the measure.

Taylor also strongly opposed the Memphis ordinance and supported several law enforcement measures in hopes of curbing crime in urban Shelby County.

Hardaway maintains that the majority of Shelby County residents supported the local ordinance and added that he “suspects” the bill’s passage had more to do with political contributions than good law enforcement policy.

He didn’t know the governor had spoken to the Wells family, but he said, “They are very kind in the way they take care of people who think like them and those who don’t. “They know there is a certain level of sensitivity that some people are going to express, but this will not be followed by any really serious work to prevent the circumstances that caused Tire Nichols’ death.”

A local investigation submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice verified that there was sufficient evidence to show patterns of discriminatory policing, Hardaway said. He wasn’t sure when the federal report would be finished.

GET THE MORNING’S HEADLINES IN YOUR INBOX