Five people filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Elvis Presley Enterprises and the City of Memphis. They were allegedly denied entrance to the candlelight vigil based on nothing but their race. They were part of a group who went to a protest at Graceland in August 2016. Keedran Franklin, Aaron Lewis, Catherine Lewis, Earle Fisher, and Charline Tramel have asked for unspecified monetary damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
Each year, Graceland holds a candlelight vigil during Elvis Week on the anniversary of his death. This past year, the vigil coincided with Black Lives Matter demonstrations throughout the country. Memphis was one of the cities where large protests took place. This includes one in July in which a major bridge was shut down for several hours. Interim Police Director Michael Rallings made international headlines for his handling of the situation. He went out on the bridge and spoke with the protesters and prayed with them. And eventually he linked arms and walked off the bridge with them. Shortly thereafter he was offered the full-time position.
Smaller protests continued throughout the summer, however, including the one the night of the candlelight vigil at Graceland.
The five plaintiffs were among several dozen who had gathered to protest at Graceland that night. Memphis police were out in full force working the security detail to prevent protesters from getting through to the mansion.
Not only does the lawsuit allege the five were denied entrance just because they were black, it also accuses the City of Memphis of preventing access to the public roads and sidewalks near Graceland.
“The decision as to which citizens were allowed to attend the public vigil and which citizens were denied access to the public vigil was based on the race of the citizens…,” the lawsuit alleges.
“We received so many complaints from people who were there that night about the way they were treated. It was clear there was a disparate treatment (between) people who were black and people who were white,” said attorney Bruce Kramer, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The more we investigated it, the more we talked to people, we realized this was not an isolated instance with some people but a concerted action by the Elvis Presley people who were directing the Memphis Police Department. We’ve got firsthand accounts of a person who has been identified as the Elvis Presley security person, telling the Memphis police people at the barricades which people to let in and which people not to.”
City spokeswoman Arlenia Cole issued this statement: “The city cannot comment on litigation matters.”
State Rep. G.A. Hardaway and state Sen. Lee Harris asked city officials to address the matter the day after the protest. City attorney Bruce McMullen said the city had the right to deny entry to the public street, but others have disagreed. (USA Today)
Memphis is a majority-minority city, and sadly racial tensions tend to run high. They certainly did that night. Every time it looks like there is progress, something like this happens.