Memphis Council Candidate Questionnaire: District 5 Answers

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1. If elected or re-elected to the city council, will you propose programs and/or initiatives to limit the number of arrests for minor offenses in the city?

MAREK:

Yes

I co-founded the University of Memphis NORML Chapter in 2006, and I founded NORML Memphis to push decriminalization of marijuana in Memphis in 2014. In 2015, I started a petition and pressured/lobby council leading up to the 7-6 vote (I saved the ordinance during its consideration when I realized the amended penalty violated the TN State Constitution), which was unfortunately derailed by the TN State Legislature before it could properly be implemented. Only one person received a civil fine.

I believe such programs and initiatives should apply to all non-violent/petty crimes as opposed to just cannabis possession. Prison overpopulation and criminal justice reform in general are very important issues to me. My biggest complaint with legalization is that it too often focuses on making already wealthy people richer with limited/monopoly licensing, yet does not include provision to expunge records like Illinois recent legislation did.

My opponent/the incumbent did not vote for the decriminalization ordinance.

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

2. If elected or re-elected to the city council, will you support a pre-booking diversion program for drug-related offenses and for those suffering from mental health issues?

MAREK:

I grew up in a working class neighborhood and saw too many friends fall victim to the criminal justice system. One mistake in a person’s youth or once enough petty charges added up, people I knew were unable to find jobs. Guess what they did when they couldn’t find work? Our system is flawed, and diversion is a great way to give people a second chance. I believe the state legislature should broaden the current law on diversion availability as well, and I also do not believe it should be a one time thing when it comes to non-violent crimes.

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

3. If elected or re-elected to the city council, will you support a policy to require transparency and democratic accountability before city agencies acquire new surveillance tools?

MAREK:

Yes

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

4. If elected or re-elected to the city council will you work to make stop and arrest data, including race and ethnicity data, available to the public quarterly?

MAREK:

Yes

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

5. If elected or re-elected to the city council what will you do to ensure a timely, transparent and independent investigation whenever an officer uses deadly force?

MAREK:

I was the first person to suggest that Memphis police officers wear body cams. At first, I was told it would never happen because of the costs, but the Memphis Daily News reported on my call for body cams once I became a member of CLERB. I was able to argue that body cams save taxpayer dollars through a reduction in lawsuits against the city/police, and I had been following the issue since I read about Rialto, California’s experience.

After much pressure and public lobbying, I am proud to say that the wheels of government came around and implemented body cams on all or at least most Memphis police officers.

That being said, we have had issues with officers turning their cameras off during incidents. I have long stated that 3 things need to happen in order to address deadly force situations and in order to bring our community and police closer together:

1) Body cams and well-implemented policies for them. We have body cams, but we need to make sure stronger policies are implemented to prevent officers from turning or leaving cameras off during a stop or investigation.

2) A strong and effective Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board. See my next answer for more information on this.

3) Public defenders or at least prosecutors from outside counties need to handle complaints against the police. There is a conflict of interest with having local prosecutors, who regularly work with police officers, handle criminal charges against those same officers. Officers who violate our laws need to be held accountable, and that is impossible when a conflict of interest exists. This would have to be done on the federal level, and Congressman Steve Cohen has proposed similar legislation involving outside prosecutors.

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

6. Name 3 steps you would take as a council member to make the Community Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) more effective.

MAREK:

I was appointed and served on CLERB between 2014 and 2018. I wrote the letter that was ultimately unanimously supported by CLERB (and signed by former Chairman Ralph White) to be sent to Mayor Strickland and the City Council asking that the city either 1) Communicate with the police director and ask him to work with CLERB as opposed to allowing him to shoot down every adverse (to Internal Affairs) decision CLERB makes, 2) Replace the police director if the previous option was not possible/obtainable, 3) Pass an ordinance making decisions by CLERB binding, or 4) Pass an ordinance giving the mayor’s office appellate jurisdiction over the decisions made by the police director.

The other issue is that CLERB’s subpoena power can only be carried out by city council, yet city council appears to refuse to use such powers. CLERB cannot conduct proper investigations without the use of its subpoena power. Internal Affairs is a conflict of interest in its own name and inception, and officers should be held responsible for not attending CLERB hearings. Transparency and citizen involvement is the only way we will ever truly bring our community and the police closer together. We need lower-income neighborhoods to feel comfortable calling the police, when they have an emergency or see a crime being committed.

1) I would call for at least 1 of the 4 requests from the letter mentioned above.

2) The City should make sure that officers attend CLERB hearings when requested. Again, CLERB needs officer attendance in order to conduct proper investigations.

3) The City needs to be compliant with the ordinance and ensure that all opinions from the police director are posted on the website. While it does appear letters from 2017 and early 2018 have been posted, this is not everything that is required by ordinance to exist on the website. I believed the current administration had agreed with me on the importance of following the ordinance and posting the letters to and from Director Rallings, but it appears that the letters are out of date.

My opponent/the incumbent was appointed to serve as the City Council liaison for CLERB. He rarely if ever showed up to the meetings, and he was not receptive at all to the changes needed to make CLERB effective.

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

7. Would you support policies, programs or initiatives to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline?

MAREK:

Yes

Yes. I attended a majority African American middle school and grew up in a majority African American neighborhood. I was frequently pulled over as a teenager and asked why I was driving to my own home because the officers did not think I belonged in the neighborhood. I’ve seen first hand the disproportionate and unfair treatment African Americans and Latinos receive in our criminal justice system, and, as a criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen too many young people receive felonies that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Poverty causes so many problems within our community, and mental health issues are real. If you are a wealthy Memphian and attend private schools, you likely are not frequently searched and harassed as a youth. Even if you are, your parents can afford the legal protection to prevent your life from being ruined at 18 or sometimes even earlier.

While I do believe in and support extracurricular activities, mentoring programs, and other policies to prevent the school-to-prison pipeline, I strongly believe that attacking poverty head on is the only way we will ever truly stop this (and many other problems) from continuing. I like the idea of federal and state governments experimenting with universal basic income, and I support many other progressive policies that help the poor (though I do not believe the local level has the resources/ability to support such).

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

8. What does criminal justice reform mean to you?

MAREK:

Criminal justice reform means a lot to me. It is the #1 issue that drove me into politics as a senior in high school, and it continues to guide my path and career (from poli sci major, to campaign manager, to criminal defense attorney, to cannabis farm manager/owner).

Criminal justice reform means recognizing that the United States of America (land of the free) incarcerates more people than China or Russia. We incarcerate more people than many authoritarian governments, including countries with larger populations. This should cause absolute outrage, yet it is often ignored.

We need to ban privatized prisons, and we need to run criminal justice reform minded candidates for judge and D.A. across the country. I am hoping to provide some level of support for candidates seeking to do so in Memphis in 2022 with a PAC I will be announcing soon.

MORGAN: DID NOT RESPOND

2019-09-12T16:45:03-05:00 September 10th, 2019|Categories: General News|Tags: |