Public Defender Helps Reframe Memphis History

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in #SeeJustice, Appellate Team, Justice Partners, Media, Outreach, Public Defender's Office, Public Defenders

From riot to massacre: Shelby County assistant public defender leads effort to give truth to tribute

Phyllis and memorial.
Shelby Co. Ass’t Public Defender Phyllis Aluko at unveiling of the Memphis Massacre marker.

When Phyllis Aluko read Professor Stephen Ash’s latest book, “A Massacre in Memphis: The race riot that shook the nation one year after the civil war” she wondered why she hadn’t heard about it before.

Then, she wondered about other things — such as why it was not acknowledged with a historical marker, like so many other critical moments in Memphis’ past.

She also wondered why it was called a “race riot”  — a term used historically and still today as code for protests started by African Americans that erupt in violence.

What happened during that horrific three day period in 1866 was the murder of 46 black men, women and children, the beating or rape of many others and the burning of black churches, schools and homes — an unconscionable 36-hour killing spree carried out by white mobs.

Aluko, a supervising attorney and member of the appellate team with the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender, decided to do something — about all of it.  As a board member of the Memphis NAACP, she worked tirelessly with other community organizations and the National Park Service to establish a historical marker with language that reflected the truth of that fateful day.

A dedication ceremony was held at the National Civil Rights Museum and the marker was unveiled at the Army-Navy Park at Second Ave. and Patterson St. near the museum.

You can read more about the marker and the Memphis Massacre here:

Do the Words ‘Race Riot’ Belong on a Historic Marker in Memphis? via NPR

Marker Finally Honors Truth, Victims of Memphis Massacre via The Commercial Appeal

Historian: It Was Both a ‘Riot’ and a ‘Massacre’ via The Commercial Appeal



Stephen Bush Named Public Official of the Year

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Jericho, Justice Partners, Justice Reform, Public Defender's Office, Stephen Bush

Shelby County Public Defender recognized by Tennessee Chapter of National Association of Social Workers

Stephen Bush accepting the NASW Tennessee chapter's "Public Official of the Year" award in Nashville.
Stephen Bush accepting the NASW Tennessee chapter’s “Public Official of the Year” award.

“The arc of the moral universe is long… in my experience, it most often bends toward justice when we embrace and bring forward the work that you do.”

Building upon one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most powerful ideas about justice, Shelby County’s Public Defender spoke to the importance of connecting those caught in the criminal justice system with social services.

Stephen Bush was in Nashville on March 30th to accept an award at the National Association of Social Workers Tennessee Chapter (NASW) “Day on the Hill”.

Bush was recognized as the NASW-TN Public Official of the Year for his role in creating the Jericho Project and his support of social work as a key component of client-centered defense.

The Jericho Project is a nationally-recognized jail diversion program for people with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Most recently, the Jericho Project was selected as one of the top Criminal Justice Innovations in 2015 by the Center for Court Innovation and the National Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Earlier this year, Bush accepted a board position on the ACE Awareness Council, an organization dedicated to understanding and raising awareness in Shelby County about the effects of early childhood trauma on brain development and the connection to health and behavioral disorders.


The Radical Idea of Justice

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in #SeeJustice, Justice Reform, Public Defender's Office, Public Defenders, Stephen Bush

Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender

“We got it right here nearly 100 years ago when visionary leaders embraced the radical idea  that people facing incarceration in Shelby County deserved the help of an attorney,      regardless of ability to pay — and they got it right decades before the U.S. Supreme Court demanded the same for all Americans.

Abe Fortas got it right, too, and may have said it best. In 1966, by then an associate Supreme Court justice, he wrote in Kent v. U.S.: ‘The right to counsel is not a formality. It is not a grudging gesture to ritualistic requirement. It is the essence of justice.'”

– Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush, The Commercial Appeal, March 18th, 2016

Read this guest column written to honor the first Public Defense Day.

The Radical Idea of Justice via The Commercial Appeal


Watch this video about the wrongful murder charge that sparked the beginning of public defense in Memphis.