We’re lucky in Nashville. The missteps of our police have been slight compared to the historically-obfuscated culture of corruption in the “law enforcement” profession only more recently becoming exposed by social media and news coverage finally waking up to the reality at hand. This reality is more acute to a certain population than to the rest of us – young black men – and this has created a huge risk for Nashville becoming the next notorious location marked in history for police corruption.
In many ways, we’ve been an example of positivity, with a Chief admirably dedicated to the Constitution, and protests being met with protection and hot chocolate. We’re not where we need to be, though. Two deaths of unarmed suspects and countless biased “driving while black” traffic stops are far too much. The only acceptable metric in these areas is ZERO, and thanks to the passing of the recent referendum on formation of the Community Oversight Board, we stand at a crossroads in the restoration of power to the people and their elected leaders, instead of the fraternal abuses of power and coverups which have become all-too-common in American policing.
Does this Council have the guts?
Spine. Backbone. Guts. These describe the theme of the subject at hand. Does the Council have the spine to populate this Board the right way? Will the failure of elected leaders from coast to coast to have the backbone to stand up to toxic influences like the FOP be offset by the people standing in for their lack of command and control? Do we, collectively, have the guts to support police by rewarding good work with good and viable pay, as we ask them to be accountable to their bosses – we, the people?
I am widely known as a cynic, a heckler, even an “extremist.” This Board should welcome an “extremist” to its ranks, for the true balance needed to fairly represent the community. Further, there is great value in an “extremist” who is comfortable, 40-years-old, middle-class and white – a demographic that isn’t expected to offer the level of concern I have the spine to deliver, disarming those who might dismiss a raging Millennial or angry African American mom (both of which also must be included in this Board, by the way).
Fire bad cops, and pay good cops what they deserve.
This is not just about throwing the book at bad cops, for anything from cheating a red light to murdering suspects (though those should be included at either end of the scale). Our responsibility as a Board must also include having the guts to speak truth to power on behalf of the good cops.
That truth is simple: We cannot attract the level of police excellence we deserve and demand if we are unwilling to pay them a salary that is no longer laughably insulting to the demands upon (and risks to) their lives.
A Board seeking true and effective oversight must fortify the weaker wills among elected leaders to ensure necessary revenue is made available and delivered to Nashville’s Guardians. You cannot weed out the bad cops if you cannot pay good cops to replace them. An officer in Franklin can pull down $50k waiting for shoplifting calls from the mall, compared to the paltry $39k offered to actual city cops busting drugs and chasing carjackers. That is an unacceptable reality that must change in Nashville.
We must also be able to justify a mandate that local police reside inside Davidson County, and with housing costs at crisis levels in the city, time is running out to get ahead of this inevitable implosion.
From internal-affairs, to slick spokesmen with deep media roots, to the Fraternal Order of Police, to biased Grand Juries and politically-motivated District Attorneys, cops enjoy layers of protection against accountability. All of these will be countered very well by the right kind of COB. But for that to happen, no cronyism on the Board should be tolerated.
The Board should not include any officer or employee of MNPD, or anyone retired from the force for less than ten years. Police have enough self-protection options between internal affairs and the FOP (as well as the deafening silence of the “good cops”). Police policing the police is the formula of cronyism which landed us in the position we’re in. Let’s not add to the problem. This should include a ban on immediate families, as well.
Public Safety, not Law Enforcement.
Too often, we find police operating with a historically-high level of hubris, as they wield the weapons of war on their own people. The practice of arming our officers with surplus implements of death and destruction must end. Cities must not continue to mount armies against their citizens. A shift away from over-equipped street-soldiers abusing power and people, to friendly, community-engaged police is crucial for liberty and justice for all.
Sometimes, the cleanest catalyst to change is a simple change of nomenclature. The phrase “law enforcement” is cavalier and not welcome in a positive relationship with the police. Recognizing these officers as protectors and providers of “public safety” is an area in which Nashville can and should lead.
Protect, and remember who you serve.
Coast-to-coast, American mayors have forgotten that they are the boss. They are the executives of their cities. The Police Chief answers to the Mayor. The cops answer to the Chief. After 9/11, first-responders became far too insulated from critique. A false elevation of police to the same platform as Army, Navy, Air Force or other American heroes took hold, and corrupt police culture has milked that reality dry.
Leaders seem to have a general apathy, either because they know they’re not “allowed” to be critical of cops anymore, or the elements standing in their way are too numerous. The trend of passive, wet-noodle executive management has failed us. Now, the people must step up and do what those we elected have not – be the boss. We already pay their checks. We deserve a voice in managing their conduct, good and bad.
It is my hope that I will be included in this body of dedicated citizens. The years I have spent preaching to all who would listen that one must be active in their local government have culminated in this inevitable call to serve. Our city is filled with citizen observers, cameras in their pockets, ready to provide us with information and evidence if we have the fortitude to apply it. We owe it to them, ourselves and our officers to produce a Board with diverse an effective membership.
Frequently Asked Questions
What motivates you so much?
I’ve got an extremely low tolerance for injustice and bullies. Over the years I have seen many abuses of power in various police forces locally, including one incident I was involved in personally with the La Vergne Police which I wholeheartedly feel would have gone badly if I were a black man. Once the news from Ferguson hit the mainstream, and the deluge of other cases began to flow freely into our national dialogue, my patience had been entirely expired, and I repeatedly spoke out against these disgusting abuses and corruptions frequently. I owe it to myself and every person murdered by a crooked cop to follow all that activism up with an attempt to serve in a body which can make a difference for the future.
What do you consider "corrupt" in police conduct?
I start measuring corrupt police activity at the simplest acts, such as cheating a red light with emergency signals only to turn them off and leisurely continue to drive calmly. By that measure, it is my estimation that about 90% of police are infected by at least a small tendency to abuse power – and that is far too much of a commonality. It is a slippery slope. Today, they’re running red lights to get to lunch faster, tomorrow they’re planting evidence…
So what should we do to discipline all these "bad cops?"
Frankly, murdering an unarmed suspect as a sworn officer of the law in the United States should be a unique federal offense, tantamount to treason. However, it would go a long way to leveling the playing field if every officer were put on unpaid leave any time they discharge a weapon. If they truly were justified, they can be reinstated with back-pay. If not, they never return to the job or recover that pay. Hitting reckless cops in their wallet would certainly generate hesitation and more would choose de-escalation options if their livelihoods might be impacted.
But, what would you have cops who fear for their lives do?
Get better training and stop using the crutch of “feared for my life” with such frequency. Let’s recruit and maintain physically fit officers who can fare better hand-to-hand with suspects. Let’s demand that they learn from other police forces in the world how to “give ground” or how to subdue with their hands, through martial arts skills. Plenty of superior options abound, worldwide, if we’d just insist that these employees of ours evolve and learn better ways.