Mayor Megan Barry has proposed to spend $1 million on ballistics armor to protect Nashville Police from assault weapons. Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson referenced the Orlando nightclub massacre as one justification for increased armor, despite the fact that no police were harmed and, in fact, were likely responsible for some of the civilian deaths. At a time when we as a nation have reached a bipartisan consensus on the need to demilitarize police, why is Nashville turning to further militarization?
MNPD has already received more than $1.3 million in surplus military gear since 1992, and has spent $15 million to buy more. We don’t agree with further militarizing our Nashville police force, and here’s why.
Militarization leads to a “warrior cop” mentality. As a 2014 ACLU report explains, militarization of the police encourages a ‘warrior’ mentality where officers act like soldiers and begin to think of the people they are supposed to serve as their enemies. This creates an “us against them” mentality that undermines positive community-police relations and goes against Nashville police’s own code of ethics that requires officers to “serve the community” and to protect “the weak against oppression.” It sends the message that police lives are more valuable than those they serve in the community.
Militarization of the police leads to the erosion of civil liberties. Militarization of police has been standard foreign policy under U.S. bilateral assistance in Central America long before it became a focus of media attention here in the United States. Evidence has shown that the militarization of police in Central America has led to increases in human rights violations such as torture, disappearances of political dissidents, and extra-judicial killings. Americans have long understood the danger a standing army posed to our domestic democracy and placed checks on police power in the Constitution. However, checks and balances on police power have eroded over the past few decades in response to race riots, the war on drugs (which largely impacts people of color), and demobilization in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 9/11, small-scale, random attacks have been used to justify huge spending increases on police equipment to the detriment of our democratic liberties such as the right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
2015 was the safest year ever for police nationwide. More police die in traffic accidents, or by accidental poisoning, or other causes, than being killed by civilians each year. Though policing is often thought of as a uniquely dangerous occupation, it is not even in the top ten most unsafe professions. If the Mayor wants to provide more funding and protection to the police, then she should be prepared to offer the same to other workers whose jobs are more dangerous, and yet who get paid less and have fewer benefits including farmers, roofers, truck drivers.
Nashville MNPD is not under threat. According to a website tracking police deaths, the last Nashville Metro police officer to be killed by gunfire was in 1996. Metro Nashville’s Police Chief Steven Anderson has himself stated “This job [policing] has some danger associated with it. But, in fact, it’s a very safe job compared to maybe other jobs.” He has also boasted that the relations between police officers and local activists in Nashville “set an example for the nation.”
On the other hand, Nashville’s residents are more likely to need protection from the police. Nashville Metro police shot and killed two men last year in 2015, one with a mental illness and one holding a toy gun. We also have existing data that show that MNPD demonstrates racial disparities in policing and arrests, arresting African-Americans at nearly three times the rate of others. According to a Metro Human Relations Commission report, community members expressed concerns about racial bias in policing and requested a civilian review board to hold the police accountable at the REAL: Nashville Dialogue on race, equity, and leadership on July 23, 2016.
We ask that Metro Council and Mayor Barry NOT vote to spend over $1 million on police militarization. If the mayor is interested in improving police-community relations, we suggest 1) offering reparations to victims of police violence and their families 2) requiring police officers to carry personal liability insurance to cover costs of brutality or death claims 3) electing an independent civilian police accountability board with power to investigate, discipline, and fire police officers and administrators, and 4) collecting more comprehensive data on police stops, arrests, budgeting, weapons, etc.
If you agree that Nashville should avoid further investments to militarize our police force, please contact members of Metro City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to oppose Resolution NO. RS2016-367.
And stay tuned for details on a direct action on September 6th!
Anna Carella, Kelly S Waller, Ashley Dixon, Kaitlin Malick, Whitney Washington