Coalition Tracking Bias

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Mel Fowler Green, Nashville Human Relations Commission Executive Director

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN – Civil Rights groups are collecting data on harassment, hate, bias and intimidation in Nashville.

Their steering committee, Respect Nashville, will document bias and harassment, “even those that might not rise to the level of a hate crime,” Nashville Human Relations Commission Executive Director Mel Fowler-Green said.

Respect Nashville includes the NAACP, Tennessee Equality Project, ACLU, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

“We want to inspire grassroots efforts to shift the climate; we want … civil discussion about these issues,” Fowler-Green said. “We want to amplify our shared values, and [tell] Nashvillians of all backgrounds, you are indeed welcome here and you are respected.”

To file complaints, call (615) 669-6223, or do so at respectnashville.org.

“Wherever instances of hate, bias, discrimination, and harassment pop up, when they become more than just an isolated incident, then the group shall respond together … this will not stand in Nashville,” Metro Councilman Bob Mendez said.

Fowler-Green said the hotline isn’t an emergency number but people should call to share their story and get resources for help if they’re intimidated or harassed. For emergencies, call 911.

“We are working with the Nashville Police Department. They have been very generous in offers to help vet any of the fact patterns that come in and the steering committee members are committed to helping constituents go to the police,” Fowler-Green said.

Mendez said, “We’re interested in collecting data about incidents of bias-based behavior in Nashville no matter what the cause or source.”

Councilwoman Erica Gilmore said the children’s advocacy group, Gideon’s Army, had academics analyze police data from 1.6 million Nashville traffic stops between 2012 and 2015. The 200-page report, “Driving While Black,” wasn’t well-received by MNPD.

Mayor Megan Barry’s spokesman, Sean Braisted, said, “We always seek to address community concerns of this nature. We are working with the police to better understand the issues and take action if appropriate.”

Mendez said Barry and police should respond to the report, but two months later there’s been no meeting for them or Gideon’s Army, and none is scheduled.

At a Public Safety Committee meeting Jan. 9, Gideon’s Army’s Rasheedat Fetuga and the MNPD had time for presentations. Fetuga, Gideon’s Army founder, said North Precinct Chief Terence Graves gave MNPD’s report on policing in high crime areas. Graves said Operation Safer Streets prevented crime. Fetuga presented numbers from police showing racial profiling by MNPD and excessive traffic stops in low income areas where very little crime was prevented.

So, one side saw a half-full-glass, the other saw it half empty.

The “Driving While Black” report, released in October, found MNPD stops drivers almost eight times more often than the national average. It reports MNPD made more stops of blacks than there were black people of driving age living in Davidson County between 2011-2015. Therefore, black residents here were stopped more than once, some several times. The report found black drivers are up to five times more likely than white drivers to be stopped multiple times a year, indicating a disproportionate burden of policing on black communities.

MNPD officers conduct probable cause and consent searches of black and Hispanic drivers at a rate more than twice white drivers, but discretionary searches of white drivers find incriminating evidence more often than discretionary searches of black and Hispanic drivers.

More than 80 percent of traffic stops of black and Hispanic drivers yielded no criminal evidence. In about 90 percent of cases where police did find evidence, it was usually for small amounts of marijuana. Between a third to half of traffic stops resulted in warnings, indicating that hundreds of thousands of drivers—a disproportionate number of whom are black—are being stopped unnecessarily. Metro police show no sign of changing patrol methods.

“Given their combined experiences of MNPD’s hyper-vigilance against black drivers on the basis of petty offenses, on the one hand, and reported experiences of MNPD’s relative unresponsiveness to actual emergencies, on the other, black residents question the idea that police officers actually ‘serve and protect’ them,” the report states.

Fetuga says she’s not waiting for a meeting with Barry or police.

“I think it’s Mayor Barry’s responsibility to sit down with Chief Anderson,” Fetuga said. “If the MNPD is denying that this is an issue, then there’s nothing for us to talk about.”

Police responses to Inauguration Day protests in Washington with stun grenades and pepper spray herding demonstrators to keep them away from the National Mall, imply a new era in police crackdowns against protestors.

The new president promises to be a “law and order” president. John Knefel reports at truth-out.org, the new president will likely begin “a renewed era of harsh law enforcement for the rest of the country, focused primarily on heavily policed and marginalized communities.”

Knefel noted an ominous post at whitehouse.gov on Inauguration Day: “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The [new] administration will end it.”

Police and public schools are tied to federal policy and money. Sharing information between federal and state authorities may include immigration status. If an old program, 287(g), is resurrected, police may be de facto immigration enforcers.

If so, one might ask: how many calls will the hotline get from Nashville’s immigrant communities when they’re afraid police will harass them?

The president’s first months may include endorsement of racial profiling and stop and frisk policing.

Here, MNPD is using Operation Safer Streets, something it began in 2005, to deter gang crime and make neighborhoods safer. The Fraternal Order of Police supports such policies. With the new president, minorities fear that such tactics will increase in low-income neighborhoods. So, Driving While Black traffic stops will probably continue in Nashville.

Read the Driving While Black report at https://drivingwhileblacknashville.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/driving-while-black-gideons-army.pdf.

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