Dear Police Chief Anderson,
We are writing on behalf of Scarritt Bennett Center (SBC) regarding the Metro Nashville Police Department response to a recent incident involving SBC board member Rev. Keith Caldwell. SBC board members and staff were dismayed to hear that, over the weekend, a bullseye target was placed in Rev. Caldwell’s yard. We can only imagine the fear that our colleague, an African American male and president of the local NAACP branch, must have felt. We are grateful that he did not experience any physical harm, but we are mindful that the emotional trauma from such an act is very real.
Although we understand and appreciate that the police department has now investigated the incident and apprehended a suspect, our continued concern lies in the initial response to Rev. Caldwell’s call for assistance and
possible protection. The police officer who arrived, as we have been told, did not respond with the seriousness the incident warranted, and as Rev. Caldwell noted, was rather flippant, leaving Rev. Caldwell unsatisfied and feeling his concerns dismissed. Such a disappointing response by the officer was only remedied after Rev. Caldwell relayed the experience on social media—and received over 1,000 shares within an hour. Because of that, you, Police Chief Anderson, and Mayor Cooper followed up.
We appreciate that this incident ultimately received the required attention, and it appears well on its way to being resolved. But we are compelled to draw attention to the fact it was the rapid viral reaction to Rev. Caldwell’s situation that finally impressed upon local law enforcement the importance of the investigation. For us, it therefore raises this question: If Rev. Caldwell were a young black male without community connections, would the situation have received any further attention?
The incident also raises questions about the first-responding officer’s lack of racial sensitivity and the police force’s understanding and training in diversity issues.Our country is now reeling from more senseless black deaths: the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black jogger gunned down in Georgia by two white men in February; the killing of Breonna Taylor, a young black woman shot in March by white police officers in her home in Kentucky; an incident this month in North Carolina where a sheriff’s deputy led an armed white mob to the home of a black teenager; and the killing in Indiana, also this month, of a 21-year-old black man, shot by police for reckless driving. This list doesn’t begin to address the number of black men killed for the “crime” of being black.
Unfortunately, these too-common events are causing continuous and growing distrust and tension between law enforcement and the black community all over the country. We hope that you and your department want to work to remedy this chasm in Nashville, and it is why we are writing you this open letter.
We believe this recent incident gives the police department an opportunity to evaluate policies and procedures to ensure that all Nashville police officers receive ongoing anti-racism and sensitivity/diversity training. Through this, we hope future responses to black and brown people will reflect appropriate knowledge and care. All people should be assured of equal law enforcement protection and have the right to expect a serious response from those entrusted with their care. Our expectation is also for all complainants be treated equitably.
Scarritt Bennett Center is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to create space for individuals and groups to engage one another to achieve a more just world. As a part of our Racial Justice Ministries program we have launched a series of discussions on racial justice issues, including one at 2 p.m. this Sunday on Facebook Live @scarrittbennettcenter entitled, “Black Men Shares: What Does It Mean to be a Black Man in America?” This discussion, which was scheduled before last weekend’s incident, is prompted by the disproportionate incidents of trauma, intimidation, and slayings of black men and women. All of these acts are manifestations of systemic racism in the nation.
We invite you and members of your department to become active listeners to the stories from this panel to reflect on ways we can all do our part to end racism in our country. We would also welcome the opportunity to talk with you about ways Scarritt Bennett Center can collaborate with you to ensure that members of the Metro Nashville Police Department have the resources they need to model the dismantling of systemic racism as it relates to law enforcement.
Executive Director, Scarritt Bennett Center
Chair of Scarritt
Bennett Center Board of Directors