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.