Sunday, February 01, 2009

Herenton Investigation Stirring Up Old Wounds

With the odds against an indictment of Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton ebbing, we can only hope that federal investigators know what they are doing.

It seems that more and more, after a decade of federal investigators stirring up rumors that involved everything from drugs to sex to bribery, the current grand jury investigation seems dead serious about taking action.

While the taint of the overreaching in the Joseph Lee fiasco lingers, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office’s have nursed their bruises and ramped up the Herenton investigation with a passion that often makes it appear to be a holy crusade. We only hope that grand jury members inject more caution into the process since they hold the match that could ignite an explosion – political, racial and civic – with dire consequences for our city.

Different View Of The World

Much of this risk stems from the polarizing figure that Mayor Herenton has become, so it should be no surprise that the ongoing – and expanding - grand jury hearings are amplifying and intensifying old familiar themes.

There seems to be something almost gleeful in many parts of the “white community” about Mayor Herenton’s travails, while there’s a growing sentiment in the “African-American community” that’s equal parts sympathy and frustration.

Nothing more dramatically symbolizes the divide that separates the way that blacks and whites in Memphis perceive and experience the city in which they live than this federal investigation. From where many African-Americans stand, media coverage regularly seems to reflect white attitudes and opinions. That’s why there’s the feeling in many quarters that the news media have “piled on” in their Herenton coverage.

Learned Behavior

In addition, there’s an opinion by many influential African-Americans that the media seem intent on suggesting that there is some unholy conspiracy by black insiders to benefit from the decisions of the public sector. “Who do you think we learned that from?” asked one rhetorically.

“It’s strange to many of us that there was so little interest in showing the connections between white politicians and white businessmen, especially those in the real estate industry, for years although it was the worst-kept secret in Memphis. Now, there seems to be a determination to smear anyone (African-American) who’s been successful and who has anything to do with city government as somehow unsavory or unethical.”

Defenders in City Hall point to lack of action, if not interest, by the federal government on a number of questionable dealings by white businessmen, and even Mayor Herenton himself has called out the grand jury investigation into the former Shelby County mayor as a prime example of politics trumping justice.

In that case, a number of prominent white political figure were called to the grand jury, but the case unraveled when Republican-appointed officials with the Department of Justice pulled the plug on the investigation into a Republican politician by issuing a ruling that stunned investigators but which eliminated the grounds for their investigation.

Changing The Rules To Win The Game

To the most cynical, it is no accident that under a Republican Administration that blatantly blurred the lines between politics and justice, the African-American power structure in Nashville was obliterated, and attention now turns to the city mayor.

As a highly-regarded African-American political observer said: “White people think we didn’t notice, but once we got control of the ballot box in Shelby County, there was a push to create a bunch of autonomous nonprofit groups to take control of some of our most valuable public places.

“Just look around: how many black folks head up these major nonprofits and quasi-government groups? Zero. How many black folks head up the major social services agencies even though they’re mainly serving people of color? None. These aren’t just coincidences. It’s part of the power structure that was invented to offset the growing power of African-Americans. Once we figured out how to win with the game, the rules were changed.”

The World In Black And White

In this way, the indictment of former MLGW president Joseph Lee not only proved the truth of the old adage that federal prosecutors can indict a ham sandwich, but that they would do anything to bring down any African-American with power. “Just think. Could Herenton have appointed any black person with strong ties to him that wouldn’t have been crucified by the paper?” an African-American businessman said. “But as soon as he appointed a white guy from City Hall to run MLG&W, the media got quiet as a mouse.”

Because of all of this, we just don’t see any way that the current U.S. Attorney’s Office can get the indictment it seems to want so badly without opening racial wounds and serious questions about its objectivity. For us, it’s three strikes and out.

Strike one: the U.S. Attorney is not only a lame duck from the Bush Administration but an interim lame duck at that. The Lee debacle tainted the office’s reputation with political overtones, and as a result, any grand jury action taken as a result of this U.S. Attorney would immediately be suspect.

And You’re Out

There’s strike two: the image of the U.S. Department of Justice has been seriously tarred by revelations of how much Bush Administration politics has played in investigative decisions and prosecutors’ appointments. And it’s worth remembering that the decision to convene a grand jury to investigate Mayor Herenton had to be approved in the Washington offices of the DOJ.

Strike three: a new U.S. Attorney will be appointed in the coming weeks by President Barack Obama. The truth is that most of the career prosecutors in the office will remain, not to mention that the FBI agents handling the investigation will remain as well. In other words, these allegedly non-partisan members of the system will be there to advocate their positions and present their evidence to the new U.S. Attorney.

In the end, if an indictment is to be returned by the grand jury, it should be done under the Obama Administration to mitigate suspicions of selective prosecution, selective media coverage and selective leaks.

Trust Matters

Why does all of this matter? Unless lines of trust are stronger and there is a belief in the innate fairness of justice, Memphis will be a wounded city limping into the future in which its divisiveness prevents any hope of success. But, more fundamentally, until lines of trust are stronger, we fail at the basics of American democracy.

As long as African-Americans see racism in events like the Tennessee Waltz and white people complain that the African-American community is paranoid, we create a civic brand of quicksand that slowly pulls all of Memphis under, and at precisely the time that together, we need to be staking out a strong competitive place in the global economy.


Anonymous said...

Great Post! Ten years ago!!!
Ha ha ha.
I don't know one person, white or black, at MLGW that doesn't say " Joseph Lee is an idiot! He's ruined MLGW".
Not overreaching, just inept. I wonder why?
If Mayor Herenton has nothing to hide, then let him turn over everything.
The democrats historically cultivate their brand of corruption and the republicans cultivate their own, Both go after each other. Pathetic?
It's a disraction and drama for the entertainment value only. The higher ups are extortionists.
After a while the American people got so tired of their government creating global hatred and domestic apathy that thy began ordering items off the internet, buying cheaper stuff from China, Russia, India, anywhere but America in an effort to get rid of the current government, both parties, by bankrupting the nation, bankrupting the military, and making it worth nothing to serve in office .
The main branches are full of rot. The whole trunk is mutton.
Where did the bailout money go? Wait till you see them leave the country with it in ten months. Cheap price to pay, good riddance. They're bailing out.
Who woke me up?
Is it November yet?
Hide in the shrubs and watch as the lack of grease exposes and unfathomably large corruption system
at all levels of government.
Happens every time a country goes through a depression. The layoffs and closings have barely scratched the surface.
I think people in America are tired of getting kept out of the loop on prosperity. They are unwilling to support someone who is using their strife as a system for them to get rich off of. If Willy is one of those types, woah unto him.
It's not racial, it's criminal.

Anonymous said...

>>>U.S. Department of Justice has been seriously tarred by revelations of how much Bush Administration politics has played in investigative decisions and prosecutors’ appointments.

Give it a rest. Presidents appoint prosecutors, presidents can fire prosecutors. Do you recall Ed Bryant resigning as U.S. Attorney? Do you recall why? Do you recall when Clinton DOJ officials from Washington came down here and told Judge Turner they wanted to dismiss the charges against Harold Ford Sr., shortly after Clinton took office? Now THAT was an abuse. Complaining about George Bush removing prosecutors that he himself appointed was a non-story at the time. Now, it's just a bore.

Anonymous said...

You guys sure woke up the naive, doctrinaire set of folks that always crawl out whenever you say anything level-headed about Herenton and the truth about the most corrupt president of our lives, W.

Anonymous said...

Did ya ever notice how fast some white people try to shut down the conversation whenever anyone tries to get them to see blacks' points of view in this place. They always want to tell us how we should live, but they never really want to understand how Memphis looks to us. Loved this post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding us that we're never getting anywhere in this crazy place until we can walk in the other guys' shoes.

Anonymous said...

Sounds pretty much to me like your siding with the Mayor.

So much for independent Journalism.

packrat said...

so if he sides with the feds, THAT'S your definition of independent journalism? The feds are paying for their hardheadedness in prosecuting Joseph Lee for what didn't amount to a crime. A fireable offense for certain, but nowhere near a crime. And now they've backed themselves into a corner and hurt this city in the process, no matter WHAT happens going forward. If they prosecute Herenton, it's a witchunt to black people, if they don't, it's a whitewash to whites. The best thing that could happen for this city is to drop the whole matter and let lame-duck herenton finish out his term and look for some leadership and unity afterwards. It's not happening now, that's for sure. meanwhile, we wallow in memphis while the rest of the country moves on.

b said...

If being an idiot were an indictable offense, we'd be using The Pyramid for jail overflow.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments and they reflect some of my own thoughts. I am a white Memphian but discourage all of my fellow whites from using "King Willie" and other designations. Instead, I ask them to tell me how the Mayor is or is not benefitting Memphis as a whole by remaining mayor.

Instead of petty bad mouthing or reflexive defenses of the Mayor, we should all be asking if he meets the needs of our city or should we have better leadership.

Anonymous said...

Lousy, racially biased post. No wonder I dont have you on my blogroll or newsreader.

Anonymous said...

How dare you ask for white people to understand how blacks see much of what goes on in this city. Thanks for making us think, which is what too many blogs don't ever do, including wintermute. Don't worry about not being on his blogroll. No one reads him any way.

Some people so blindly hate Herenton that it's impossible to consider a different reality.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 8:19:

As we've written before, bloggers aren't journalists, and if there's any comparison to be made with that profession, it is that we are editorial writers. This is our opinion based on our knowledge and information.

In this regard, we think it's the most independent of all, because we just try to provoke different ways of seeing things and in exploring the back stories that often don't make the headlines.

Thanks for reading.

We appreciate all of your comments.

And to our friend, Wintermute, we're sorry that you only include blogs on your blog roll that reenforce your view of the world.

Aaron said...

Black or white, Herenton is a tired leader that should have passed the mayorship on a few years ago.

Well said Packrat.

Anonymous said...

Herenton is like yelling fire in a building. Everybody starts screaming and don't even listen to what's been said. People just give knee jerk opinions like wintermutt because they don't want anything that sounds like it's giving the mayor/king a break.

antisocialist said...

In the event that I ended up on the jury in a US vs. Willie Herenton trial, the government better have solid concrete evidence. If their is just some testimony from some witnesses (especially any witnesses that cut deals for their testimony), I will find Herenton not guilty.

Anonymous said...

So, you'de throw the trial if you could or you will run it on opinion instead of evidence? Ever hear the term walks like a duck talks like a duck smells like a duck, tastes like a duck, lives in a pond like a duck, it's probably a memphis politician?
I'm not white, but, this post is ten years too late. Even Willy has de-evolved since any likeness of "innocence" was there.
No, we shouldn't, as a people, all colors, wait for the other shoe to drop before WE take action against an inept and ineffective mayor, EVER. THAT is why Memphis is in hot water constantly, we've taken NO ACTION in the past against corruption, together or apart. We've always waited till our corruption runs amok then the feds have to clean it up because we harm the whole country. That's right, when you don't follow the law, you harm the whole country, because your GDP is felons.
As far as republicans and Democrats, send a letter to George bush Sr. and ask him why during Iran Contra he was sending thise planes through Memphis and Mena and why Bill Clinton was making sure no one in AR selling drugs got arrested. $71 dead bodies to cover up Iran Contra and the Bush Clinton connection, THEY ARE BOTH ONE EVIL HEAD, and they are both out of office. W had nothing on them.

Stick to the topic at hand, Willy Herenton, and sons, and friends, and aquaintances.

Anonymous said...

Hey 6:30. It works for me too !

In the event that I ended up on the jury in a US vs. Willie Herenton trial, Willie better have solid concrete evidence. If their is just some testimony from some witnesses (especially any witnesses that cut deals for their testimony), I will find Herenton guilty.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:45

Where can I read about Bush-Clinton, Iran-Contra, drugs, dead bodies and cover-ups? I've heard some rumors in various places but no one can finish the story.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:45

Where can I read about Bush-Clinton, Iran-Contra, drugs, dead bodies and cover-ups? I've heard some rumors in various places but no one can finish the story.

Anonymous said...

Google it.
There are still people walking around who lived through it.
As someone from a city where the coroner put a bomb around his own neck with a barbed wire necklace, it should be no stretch to understand how Mr. AlFamy was one messed up crooked SOB and the best coroner money could buy.
They sold drugs out of the DHS office across the street from the capitol bldg. What a time to be in college in AR!

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