Calling for Change

Retired MNPD officer and current President of the Nashville Chapter of the National Black Police Association. Photo courtesy of Reggie Miller.

Retired officer recalls racism in ranks

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Retired police veteran Officer Reggie Miller of the Metro Police Department was horrified after seeing the gruesome video of George Floyd being murdered on the street in broad daylight by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.  “It was such an inhumane, heart wrenching, despicable, and cowardly act.  I was angry, frustrated, devastated, and it was almost impossible to watch.” Dѐjá-vu struck: he experienced a similar incident almost 28 years ago on in Nashville undercover.

He was working a prostitution sting along Murfreesboro Road driving an unmarked department issued vehicle, unaware it had expired tags.

He suddenly saw blue flashing lights. Unsure why he was being pulled over, Miller hit his signal light indicating he was pulling over and visibly placed both hands on the steering wheel. He took precaution to make sure that if the officer hadn’t recognized him, he wouldn’t alarm him. 

Miller was pulled over by the same officers working the same shift –he’d just seen them at roll call. Soon he was surrounded by four police cars.

He couldn’t’ve prepared for what happened next. 

One officer approached his vehicle and, without asking any questions, yanked the door open, grabbing Miller’s arm. He pulled Miller to the ground while pushing a gun to his head.

Miller was choked, one officer dropped his knee into Miller’s back, grabbing his face and gouging his eyes. Another began kicking him in the groin. 

It could’ve been worse if Miller’s white supervisor hadn’t intervened, pushing the officers off him.  A white female motorist who was stopped at a nearby red light saw the assault unfold.

She asked officers why they were beating Miller and was told they were re-enacting a scene from Crime Stoppers and told her to leave. 

All officers involved in the assault were white. Two were fired but soon reinstated.

Miller’s body went cold as he watched the horrifying footage of the police killing of George Floyd May 25, reminding him of an unsettling reality: “That could have been me,” he said.

“There are so many untold stories,” he lamented, adding cell phone videos have given confirmation of the brutality inflicted.

Protesters demanding change worldwide in the last few weeks have sparked conversations surrounding police reform. 

Miller, who is the past National President and past Regional President of the National Black Police Association (NBPA), is currently President of the Nashville Chapter. He was appalled that Chauvin had 18 previous complaints.

Departments should investigate officers on their second complaint to track possible behavioral patterns, Miller said.

Floyd’s death was preventable, but the humanity of black people appears invisible. The stress, trauma, fear, emotional and psychological impact of racism is something black citizens navigate daily. Administrators must hold officers accountable when they abuse and violate people’s rights. White men can be armed, standing on government buildings protesting their civil rights. Blacks commit minor infractions and they get tased, beaten, shot, and killed, he said, adding:

“When you are not seen, not valued, not looked at as a citizen, humanity doesn’t apply to you. We are underrepresented, oppressed, and dissatisfied, but we can’t stop when we are tired, we stop when we are done. We have to continue to be a voice to the voiceless, we are strengthened by numbers, and those numbers force a change, and that change produces real results. All the rallies, marches, protests, and demonstrations across the nation against inequality have caused change around the world.”  

Miller advocates sensitivity training, diversity training, and implicit bias training, explaining departments should require such training because it’s essential to how officers treat the community. And he’d like to see legislation that requires police officers to immediately reassess their restraint tactics if someone says they can’t breathe or are in distress.

Miller is pained to see the rift between citizens and police. He relates because he’s a black man, a former police officer and a victim of police brutality. “We need to get our hearts and minds united as we seek to create a more just, humane, and Christ-like embodied world.  If it is to be so, it starts with you and me, and it starts now,” he said.

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