Dozens of Black cops in Memphis face demotions

They lost their appeal. Now the city of Memphis want dozens of black cops to lose their jobs.

More than ten years ago, African American police officers in Memphis, Tenn. took their employers to court, arguing tests the department used to determine who gets promoted were racially biased. The officers won the lawsuit, leading to some of them receiving promotions, but last fall, a federal appeals court overturned the decision.

Now, 28 out of the 62 officers who sued the police department may be demoted back to their old jobs.

Since the announcement, there is talk of possibly appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as reports that police moral is down and many of the former plaintiffs are “very stressed out.”

Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan who served as the No. 2 official in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice from 2009 to 2011, said that Memphis appears to be “interpreting what the court has said as giving them the authority to do what they want to do.”

Bagenstos said that it “doesn’t seem like the right result” to knock the officers back to the positions they held 15 years ago. “We don’t wind the clock back to 2000, we try to figure out what the world would look like now,” he said. He also noted that “it’s really rare and aggressive” for an employer to seek back pay, although it could be a negotiating strategy to get the plaintiffs to go away.

Those representing the officers are appalled by what they view as the vindictiveness of the city, wanting to strip away the promotions of officers who have been with the Memphis police department for 20 years or more.

“The city wants to give an ultimatum: If you all continue on [with the lawsuit], we’re going to demote you back to patrolman,” said Lt. Tyrone Currie, the treasurer of the Afro American Police Association Memphis branch, which supports the plaintiffs. He noted that most of the officers have over 20 years on the job and have earned equivalent benefits, while patrolmen tend to be officers in their early 20s.

“You should not retaliate against people just because they’re exercising their constitutional right to an appeal,” he added.