NASHVILLE, TN — City Clerk Elizabeth Waites did not show up Wednesday afternoon to receive 8,000 signatures from community activists who want to put a referendum on the November ballot. If passed, the measure would create a Community Oversight Board (COB) to monitor police violence. The deadline for qualifying was August 1 at 4 pm.
By 2:30 about three dozen activists wearing COB t-shirts started to get restless. Where was Waites? A box filled with the petitions was sitting on the front counter. The news media, COB supporters, and the parents of Jacques Clemmons were packed like sardines in the office hallway on the second floor of City Hall.
The reason many of them were there was because Clemmons was gunned down by Officer Joshua Lippert February 10, 2018 and Lippert was not charged. Lippert later passed the sergeant’s exam and has been promoted. A COB probably would have recommended he be fired.
Authorities cleared Lippert even though his family and friends thought Clemmons was murdered. For their part, police say Clemmons was an armed parole-violator fleeing the scene after running a stop sign. In their minds, it was a clean shoot and Lippert was protecting public safety.
Two sides view the same incident completely differently. Such killings are epidemic all over the country where mostly white policemen patrol black neighborhoods.
When black men run away during routine traffic stops and then get shot in the back by white police officers the result is community outrage and distrust hardens on both sides. That distrust was evident in City Hall today.
“Is she here?” “Where is she?” “Why isn’t she here?” people wondered.
Assistant clerk Marlene Fuller signed the form for Waites and time-stamped it but left blank the space on the form where Waites’ was supposed to put her John Hancock.
Arnold Hayes, Sekou Franklin, and attorney Jamie Hollin withdrew from the crowded hallway to decide what they should do. Waites was clearly disrespecting them but they were trying hard not to show it. Clemmons’ mother stepped in and took over the drama unfolding in front of the TV cameras.
“She is a coward just like Officer Lippert was, shooting my son in the back, just like Officer Delke was, shooting Dan Dan in the back. They are cowards. And that’s who y’all want running this city? Cowards? I can run it better than they can,” said Sheila Clemmons Lee, mother of Jocques Clemmons.
Meanwhile Councilman Scott Davis and Jamie Hollin, COB’s lawyer, went downstairs to the Mayor’s office seeking help to de-escalate the situation.
They came back with City Attorney Jon Cooper. The petitioners were not going to leave until Waites showed up and signed the form. They would have been arrested if they occupied her office after 4pm. Two security guards arrived on the scene.
Cooper, a mild-mannered lawyer, who is much more comfortable quoting regulations and law, was at ground-zero in a situation that was quickly spiraling out of control.
With his bookish manner, hesitant and clearly out of his depth, and surrounded by dozens of agitated petitioners, Cooper managed to calm the angry crowd.
He declared the form legal and official. Copies were made and the crowd withdrew to hold a press conference in the hall outside the clerk’s office. The petitions will go to the Election Commission to verify the signatures are registered voters.
Hollin noted the form was created by Waites’s office to assure the provenance of referendum signatures submitted to the clerk, then to the election commission, and then to voters on the November ballot. “Her name is pre-printed on it. She refused to sign it so a deputy had to sign it. It’s unbelievable,” said Hollin.