Mayor Barry welcomes white supremacy to Nashville

1-pfT-uZVTUnAxSX02yDz9ew

Peeking through the opulent greenery of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a banner has been hung over a railing. It reads “‘God Bless Jeff Sessions’ -David Duke”. Photo by Kyle Lincoln.

On Tuesday Morning, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry introduced Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Fraternal Order of Police’s bi-annual national convention. While the Mayor’s remarks were deeply personal, we cannot ignore the troubling message that Mayor Barry is sending by welcoming a white supremacist sympathizer and Trump cabinet member to Nashville to deliver a speech promising the further militarization of America’s police forces, and the doubling down on failed ‘Law and Order’ policies that have been devastating for communities, especially communities of color, for generations.

Jeff Sessions has a deeply racist history and has been widely praised by white supremacists. Former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke has said “God Bless Jeff Sessions” and in response to Session’s nomination for Attorney General, Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer wrote “… I think Trump is making a point by putting in an aggressively anti-black AG.” Jeff Sessions was in town this week to greet the organization that endorsed President Trump in exchange for promises of expanded protections for police when they commit violence, and a renewed commitment to expanding mass incarceration. To this crowd on Tuesday, he announced Trump’s plan to roll back civilian protections implemented under Obama, and to re-commit to distributing military equipment to police forces across the country, expanding the threat of violence to civilians, particularly people of color who are targeted by police.

This year, the FOP convention fell just weeks after racist attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists terrorized people and killed one person as the police looked on, not doing anything to deescalate or protect protesters. The threats that white supremacists chanted in the streets in Charlottesville and those that Sessions boasted from a podium at Opryland on Tuesday are not disconnected: Law and Order approaches have always meant harsh practices of racial profiling, racially-motivated shootings of unarmed black and brown people, and an overemphasis on criminalizing the symptoms of poverty. As is widely known now, Republican strategists during Nixon’s campaign designed ‘Law and Order’ rhetoric as a racist dog whistle signaling to white communities in the civil rights era that Nixon would keep Black people and communities ‘in their place.’ The policies that followed terrorized communities of color and created the mass incarceration crisis this country is currently facing.

By introducing Jeff Sessions at the FOP convention and through her support of larger and more militarized policing, Mayor Barry has sided with one of the most dangerous alliances in this country today — that between white supremacists, Jeff Sessions and Trump, and the police. When it comes to Mayor Barry’s stance on policing, it’s hard to tell her apart from the far-right Trump Administration.

Almost a full year after the release of the Gideon’s Army “Driving While Black” report, which exposed shocking trends of racist practices by the Metro Nashville Police Department last October, the only response we’ve seen from Mayor Barry supports further expansions of policing in Nashville: millions in spending for military-grade armor, surveillance equipment, and cameras for MNPD officers. Mayor Barry has failed to support the calls for a Community Oversight Board, or push back against MNPD Police Chief Anderson when he refused to stand down in the investigation of police-involved shooting and death of Jocques Clemmons in February. Mayor Barry positions herself as a liberal Democrat, but her support for a larger and more militarized police presence in Nashville threatens the communities she claims to represent. Mayor Barry, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t call yourself a progressive while supporting racist people and policies that put people of color and other marginalized communities in danger.

We challenge Mayor Barry to be bold and transformative in her approach to policing.

We challenge her to do the important work of listening to all her constituents, including and especially those who are most directly affected by systemic oppression and police brutality. We challenge her to uplift communities of color in our city, and to concern herself with their protection and safety by challenging stop-and-frisk policies like MNPD’s Operation Safer Streets, and by implementing a Community Oversight Board. We challenge her to put on the pressure to transform MNPD, to divest from systems that deal in death, and to invest in systems that create pathways to housing, wellness, and safety for all. Above all, we challenge her to fight for justice by speaking out against the dangerous and life-threatening agenda of President Trump and his chosen representatives. Lives are at stake, Mayor Barry. Be brave enough to save them.

We challenge people of conscience to challenge Mayor Barry as well. Please call her office this week and tell her you saw and are disappointed that she introduced white supremacist Jeff Sessions.

Tell her to support the Community Oversight Board that communities are calling for. Her number is (615) 862–6000.

-Showing Up for Racial Justice Nashville

This op-ed originally posted on Medium on August 30, 2017.

Advertisements

Fighting 2017 Blue Lives Matter Legislation in TN

As some of you may know, Tennessee lawmakers made clear last summer in July 2016 their intention to pass a number of bills that they are labeling “Blue Lives Matter” bills. They have chosen this label intentionally. #BlueLivesMatter became a hashtag and slogan for those supporting the police against #BlackLivesMatter activists and those demanding racial justice amid high-profile police killings and brutality.

They lawmakers have a website www.tnbluelivesmatter.com and they are calling themselves the “Tennessee Blue Lives Matter coalition.” What these bills have in common is that they would increase the penalties for people convicted of assaults on police officers and treat the police as a class of people deserving of special protection by the state. Ultimately, the lives of police are already protected by existing laws — this new legislation seeks exclusively to unjustly punish and pit the police against the people.

Lawmakers who are central to the Blue Lives Matter effort in Tennessee include Senators Mike Bell (Riceville), Todd Gardenhire (Chattanooga), and Mark Green (Clarksville) and Representatives Mike Carter (Ooltewah), Gerald McCormick (Chattanooga), Andy Holt (Dresden), and Mark White (Memphis).

The three bills the coalition announced in 2016 included 1) classifying the killing or attempted killing of an officer as a hate crime as they have already done in Louisiana 2) elevating charges for assaults on a police officer and 3) levying a fine against anyone who publishes an officer’s home address publicly. They have followed through on introducing all three bills in this year’s 2017 legislative session.

In January, the legislation SB 6 that would make killing a police officer a hate crime was introduced by Senator Green but was immediately withdrawn, thankfully. It is off the table for now.

There are two separate bills calling for elevated charges for assaults on a police officer.

HB 835 / SB 1342 is being sponsored by a Democrat from Memphis, Representative John DeBerry and also sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Bailey a Republican from Sparta. This would create an enhancement factor by which a sentence can be increased, where a person is convicted of committing a violent offense against a law enforcement officer. This would of course include being deemed to have used violence against the police in resisting arrest. This law already exists in Florida. DeBerry says in defense of the bill that “what we’re trying to do is protect uniformed officers.” OPPOSE

A similar bill HB 168 / SB 206 is being sponsored by Rep. Gerald McCormick and Senator Todd Gardenhire, both Republicans from Chattanooga, elevates the Class A misdemeanor offense of assault to the Class E felony offense of aggravated assault for assaulting a law enforcement officer. OPPOSE

Assaulting a police officer is a charge that is often used against protesters when they are defending against police abuse. This bill would further punish citizens who are defending themselves against police violence. An example of this abuse is the 2012 case of of Cecily McMillan, an Occupy protester who was sexually assaulted by police and in pushing him away, was charged with assaulting a police officer and sentenced to 3 years in prison.

And finally, the bill HB 560 / SB 467 would create the misdemeanor offense of unauthorized release of a law enforcement officer’s residential address to the public punishable by a $500 fine if the release is criminally negligent or a $2,000 fine if intentional. OPPOSE

In addition to these three Blue Lives Matter bills, there is additional legislation that we think is worth following. One bill that would give a (racist) (white) person immunity if they make a false alarm to the police about a (black) (Muslim) person who is not engaged in unlawful activity, and another bill that would make it harder to prosecute a crime when defendants claim self-defense.

The first bill would protect (white) people who are engaging in racial profiling from being charged with making false alarms about (black) (Muslim) people not engaged in unlawful activity. HB 1366 / SB 816 is sponsored by Republicans Rep. Judd Matheny from Tullahoma and Senator Mark Green of Clarksville. This bill gives immunity from civil or criminal liability to a person for making a report to law enforcement of suspicious activity or behavior if the report is based on articulable suspicion. In Pennsylvania, multiple people used racial profiling to make false alarms calls to police about a Sikh man for simply being dressed in traditional Sikh clothing. In Ohio, a judge ruled that the 911 caller who reported John Crawford III to police which ended in his murder by police had made a false alarm which is a first-degree misdemeanor in that state. The white man who called 911 did so based on racist assumptions about John Crawford III and his call is in part what led to that young black man being shot on sight by the police. If this bill passes in Tennessee, no person who calls the police can be charged with making a false claim if the report is based on “articulable suspicion.” Certainly suspicion is racially charged, subjective, and wrought with implicit bias. This would encourage more false claims and racial profiling. OPPOSE

HB 1006 / SB 861 sponsored by Representative Andy Holt a Republican from Dresden and Senator Kerry Roberts a Republican from Springfield. This bill would make it harder to prosecute people who claim self-defense and provides financial compensation for wrongful prosecution. In theory, this could help anyone of any race who uses self-defense from being wrongfully prosecuted. In practice, it would likely be racist in application. Think about the Trayvon Martin case. Charges were pursued against George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense, but ultimately were not filed. If they had been filed, and the case was lost, the prosecution would have been responsible for paying Zimmerman’s attorney fees. It would also make it harder to prosecute cases like thisOPPOSE

These bills in Tennessee and across the nation are in direct response to the progress made in raising awareness of racist police brutality and racial profiling over the past few years. More analysis of how these bills would affect existing law is needed, but this legislation is very time sensitive so we wanted to put out an alert now. Please call your legislators and let them know you oppose Blue Lives Matter and other legislation that encourages racial profiling. 

RESIST!

Further reading:

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/politics/state/story/2016/jun/27/chattanooga-republicans-help-introduce-blue-lives-matter-bill/373262/

http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/27/tennessee-lawmakers-launch-blue-lives-matter-effort/86450416/

http://www.wsmv.com/story/32318563/lawmakers-announce-new-bills-aimed-at-keeping-officers-safe

http://fox17.com/news/local/tennessee-representatives-blue-lives-matter-bill-met-with-concerns

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/would-trumps-blue-lives-matter-effort-really-help-protect-police/

http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/crime–law/judge-finds-probable-cause-for-911-caller-crawford-shooting/HdlR8ZsgOnjnLTRhG6KVRM/

https://www.democracynow.org/2014/5/6/occupy_wall_street_on_trial_cecily

http://www.nashvillescene.com/news/article/13064397/blue-lives-matter-legislation-coming-to-tennessee-in-2017

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/community/cops-gherao-sikh-man-after-false-alarm/299429.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/georgia-woman-shoots-15-year-old-boy-walking-house-article-1.2950044

An Open Letter to Nashville Vice Mayor Briley about the #JusticeforJocques Demands

Dear Vice Mayor Briley,

Many of us were in attendance at Tuesday night’s Metro Council meeting. We participated in the action in support of Black Lives Matter Nashville, Gideon’s Army, the #JusticeForJocques Coalition, and the family of Jocques Scott Clemmons. We appreciate your willingness to attend to the demands presented. We stand with the #JusticeForJocques coalition in demanding:

  1. Release the police report now.
  2. Fire officer Joshua Lippert.
  3. Make public the protocol for firing a police officer.
  4. Body cameras now.
  5. People-organized civilian review board with subpoena power.
  6. Stop the Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) funded police task force occupation of Nashville’s public housing.

We are writing today to urge you to take these demands seriously, and not to question or belittle the efforts of the organizers. When you say that protesters were “hurting their cause,” it seems that you may not relate to what is at stake or understand why taking dramatic measures is necessary and urgent. For as long as there have been human beings fighting for their rights and living conditions, there have been leaders in positions of power criticizing those efforts as unnecessary, excessive, or incorrect. We urge you to consider which side of history you are on when you criticize protesters for the ways in which they demand dignity instead of criticizing the system that deprives them of that for which they are so determined to fight. As members of the Nashville community, these organizers are exercising their rights to free speech and free assembly. They are putting their safety and comfort on hold to speak out against police brutality, which is an issue that plagues our city and kills our citizens.

Our organization (Showing Up for Racial Justice) seeks to do anti-racism work in predominantly white communities. This means that we are mostly white folks, and we strive to identify and call out white supremacy at work. It does not mean that we, or any other white people, have the right or authority to set the agenda for resistance. We are not in a position to question the tactics of those who are being harmed.  It is not our role to accuse activists, organizers or citizens of color of “hurting their cause” because we are made uncomfortable by the vocalization of their oppression or because we have an impersonal analysis of how resistance should be done differently.

The recent Driving While Black report presents clear and significant data to show that people of color are stopped, harassed, and harmed by police in Nashville at a disproportionate rate. Plainly stated, being accused of racism is not the same thing as being a victim of racism. If you or others feel that the demands listed above are too demanding, this means that you are not experiencing police brutality in the same way as our community members of color. For a change, assume that the demands are worded as they are because that wording is necessary. Assume that organizers are disrupting as they do because they are fighting for their lives. We ask that you refrain from making disparaging remarks, and that you exercise humility before you judge the resistance of those who are being treated very differently than you. Empathy is hard work; please keep striving for it.

We will continue to demand justice. We hope that you will join us.

Sincerely,

SURJ Nashville

 

Justice For Jocques Full Demands:

  1. RELEASE THE POLICE REPORT NOW
  2. FIRE OFFICER JOSHUA LIPPERT
  3. Officer Lippert has proven with his disciplinary record that he is not fit to be a police officer. His decision making and use of force has violated the vow to protect and serve and in the end he shot and killed Jocques Clemmons. There should be ZERO tolerance for abusive police
  4. MAKE PUBLIC THE PROTOCOL FOR FIRING POLICE OFFICERS
  5. Officer Lippert has been disciplined 8 times in 5 years. At what point does MNPD say enough is enough and fire a police officer? We want specific and transparent answers about what the process is for firing a police officer for misconduct, abuse, etc.
  6. BODY CAMERAS NOW
  7. Mayor Megan Barry pledged support of body cameras during her mayoral election. Mayor Barry and Chief Anderson have publicly proposed to allot money for body cameras and yet we STILL have no cameras. In September 2016, despite pressure to move forward swiftly with body cameras, Mayor Barry’s administration instead contributed $1 MILLION towards ballistic armor for police. This administration has made it clear where their priorities lie. We want body cameras and we want them NOW.
  8. PEOPLE-ORGANIZED CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARD WITH SUBPOENA POWER
  9. MNPD has refused oversight by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and currently any investigation into MNPD killings or misconduct is carried out by MNPD themselves. We are demanding that a PEOPLE-ORGANIZED Civilian Review Board be implemented and supported by the government City of Metropolitan Nashville. We recognize the importance of having the people choose who will sit on the review board and reject mayoral and/or police appointed individuals sitting on the board to eliminate any bias and conflicts of interest.
  10. STOP THE METRO DEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AGENCY (MDHA) FUNDED POLICE TASK FORCE OCCUPATION OF NASHVILLE’S PUBLIC HOUSING
  11. MDHA has partnered with MNPD to increase police presence in public housing facilities such as Cayce Homes. These areas are already heavily policed and surveilled. When a housing agency opts to increase police presence and surveil its residents, it becomes an occupation. End the occupation at Cayce Homes. b. Stop the recent escalation of police presence, occupation, and search of Cayce Homes and all public housing residents. Since the killing of Jocques, police presence has increased in the very community that he was killed in, escalating tensions between community members and police. We need room for our folks to breathe.

PLEASE NOTE: The demands as stated here are general demands from diverse members of the black community, and not reflective of the specific demands of any one organization. These demands are an effort to center black communities most directly affected.

Stop the Further Militarization of Nashville’s Police

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 councilmembers@nashville.gov and ask them to oppose Resolution NO. RS2016-367

And stay tuned for details on a direct action on September 6th!

Signed,
Anna Carella, Kelly S Waller, Ashley Dixon, Kaitlin Malick, Whitney Washington