Council Meeting Protest Tonight

The Metro Council meeting tonight was brought to a halt by protesters demanding a response to the shooting death of Jocques Clemmons by an MNPD flex officer. The protest is covered in the Tennessean already, and I expect to see a Scene article soon. You can also follow what happened @joeygarrison and @iamstevenhale. I want to share a few thoughts myself.

First, though, goodness, there’s a lot going on these days. The federal government appears to be on the verge of trying to deport every non-citizen charged with or convicted of a crime. I fear that the DACA kid detained in Seattle, and the domestic violence victim detained in El Paso, soon are going to be the norm and not the exception. For those who might somehow be unmoved by the human and family tragedies that will unfold, be prepared for public safety issues as non-citizens stop reporting crimes, and be prepared for economic consequences as real live human beings get disappeared from our economy.

Then there are the Russians, threats of violence against the Jewish community, inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment, and another season of scorn from the State legislature. Oh, and a public hospital working through financial distress, and short term rentals too. I’m not complaining because I volunteered for this Metro Council gig, but it’s a lot.

Back to tonight. It’s tragic. Jocques Clemmons is dead. The TBI is conducting an investigation, with the FBI riding shotgun. People — residents and law enforcement alike — are on edge. And, it is essentially impossible to describe these events in a way that makes everyone happy. On one side, anything short of saying that Mr. Clemmons was murdered is perceived as an insult. On the other, anything short of saying police officers have the hardest job in the world and this was a justified shooting is perceived as an insult. Although it feels like our language, our words, are failing us, and failing to convince the “other,” we can’t shut down the conversation.

I don’t have all the answers. I do feel though that if an argument doesn’t work, maybe a story will. Here’s one story — it is a story that most of white Nashville needs to hear — and I mean really hear and feel and believe. If you gather together a group of African American Nashvillians and ask them to tell their stories about nephews, sons, uncles, cousins, and husbands getting pulled over by MNPD, you will absolutely believe that African Americans get pulled over at significantly higher rates than white drivers. I can’t be any more plain than this — you can look at the statistics, but they are flat and easy to gloss over. But hearing a group of average Nashvillians who happen to be black look you in the eye and tell you about their experiences is moving. It is a truth that all of us need to hear.

Of course, this isn’t the only story that matters. MNPD didn’t create chronically bad education for minorities in Nashville. MNPD didn’t create poverty that unfairly impacts minorities. MNPD didn’t create the desperation that can sometimes lead to drug use or crime. For too many Nashville citizens, the “It City” is just the place on the horizon where you can catch a glimpse of a skyscraper. “It” isn’t real. “It” isn’t home. Yet, officers have to operate in that environment. It is a very hard job.

After a report last fall about traffic stops in Nashville, Council Member Erica Gilmore and I filed two pieces of legislation. I linked to the legislation when I wrote about it in December 2016. My perspective is that Nashville will find its way through these issues by talking about our stories. The Scene recently had a story that made the point that there is a history of racial strife in Nashville and we skim over that at our peril.

There has to be a public discussion that acknowledges the reality that much of Nashville’s African American population feels either over-policed or unfairly policed, and also acknowledges that we have to figure out how our entire community can be policed fairly and safely. This won’t be easy. It will be hard. But we absolutely have to be willing to have hard conversations in order to find the best way forward.

The Council is full of Type-A leaders. We saw that while the protest was starting. I saw at least a dozen of my colleagues trying to jump in to figure out something. I wanted the protesters to be able to speak — I think having them speak at the end of the meeting was a good result.

My legislation about traffic stops was never supposed to be contentious. Honestly, having Metro simply respond about whether it agrees with the data presented in the traffic stop report, and having Metro update the data once a year, was never going to be anything more than a first small, modest step toward shining a light on the conversation we need.

My guess is that we’ll soon see additional legislation — maybe to move body camera funding into this fiscal year instead of next. No matter what legislation gets filed, my primary objective is to take steps toward having a conversation where stories from the entire community are heard and acted on. There will always be some who simply deny that race ever plays a role, and there will always be some that paint all police officers as racist. But I’m willing to bet that the majority of people who hear everyone’s stories can work together in good faith to move Nashville forward.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.