Metro Council’s State of the City

District 21 Councilman Brandon Taylor delivers the 37208 Special Committee report to Metro Council Tuesday, February 4, 2020.

NASHVILLE, TN –After spending 4 months studying several unresolved issues, the chairpersons of 8 Special Committees presented their findings Tuesday to Metro Council.

Vice Mayor Jim Shulman thanked committee members. “The work looks really good and I would encourage everyone to look at the reports. Now that you’ve got the recommendations, the question is how do you want to act on them?” Shulman asked.

The committees studied some of Metro’s most intractable problems such as the high incarceration rate in the 37209 zip code, stagnant wages for Metro employees, too few bus stops for middle schoolers served by WeGo buses, lack of textbooks in Metro schools and teachers paying for supplies out of their own pockets, not enough codes inspectors to deal with new construction, and low voter turnout.

Each Committee was comprised of five Councilmembers, concerned citizens appointed to each Committee by the Vice Mayor. Each committee also included one member from the Mayor’s Youth Council.

“You either die or go to jail,” said Deirdre Nicole of Gideon’s Army during the first meeting of the 37208 Special Committee.

“Her statement sums up the hopelessness of many residents living in 37208,” said District 21 Councilman Brandon Taylor. He chaired the 37208 group and wrote an introductory letter in the 25-page report.

“But incarceration is a symptom, not the sickness. The sickness is a lack of opportunity, and that is why the work of the 37208 Special Committee is paramount,” he said.

The report clearly and starkly described “a deadly cycle” between the Jefferson St. area and the criminal legal system. What residents lack—good healthcare, education, affordable housing, good jobs—creates an environment where police make lots of arrests for low level offenses.

The U.S. criminal justice system is a prison pipeline that incarcerates black men at six times the rate of white men. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes.

The 37208 zip code is a largely African American district. The report said its poor residents “cyclically face physical death and social or civil death”.

The history of systemic inequality and institutional racism is well known. “From slavery to the development of the prison system to Jim Crow to redlining, every neighborhood in the United States has been impacted,” the report said.

What to do about it all is the big question. The report presents a complicated picture with two different but related goals: restoration and prevention.

“While we must support residents and families whose lives have been endangered and negatively affected by incarceration and racist policing practices, we must also prevent crime, violence, and violent systems from affecting families in the first place,” the report said.

Among its recommendations about reparations and reentry:

  • Reduce, eliminate, and reform criminal justice fines and fees practices.
  • Support programs to increase opportunities for driver’s license reinstatement.
  • Work with judges to reform and end money bail practices
  • Reduce pre-trial detention.
  • Increase opportunities for records expungement and voting rights restoration.
  • Increase access to affordable housing for inmates leaving incarceration.
  • Expand restorative justice practices in the criminal legal system.
  • Conduct audits of the privatization of incarceration and probation systems.

The report suggested three things that can be done right away.

  • Draft and pass a Metro Council resolution requiring Metro to complete and release the criminal justice fines and fees study.
  • Support, expand, and promote the Music City Community Court to connect residents with records expungement, voting rights restoration, driver’s license reinstatement, access to jobs, housing, and other supportive services.
  • Work with the Tennessee General Assembly to pass legislation to immediately restore voting rights of individuals convicted of felonies once they’ve served their sentences.

Regarding policing, the report recommended adopting a neighborhood policing policy, eliminating racial disparities in traffic stops for non-moving violations, and creating a strategic plan “for the entire criminal legal system”.

The report advised increased funding for youth development programs and continued support for the Nashville After School Zone Alliance. It also called for funds to complete the renovation of the McGruder Family Resource Center, and urged Metro Council to order a strategic plan for public safety.

The report made 9 community engagement recommendations. Among them were a 37208 advisory committee, town halls, voter registration events, and the creation of a Community Foundation Fund earmarked for 37208.

The full report can be found on Metro Council’s Nashville.gov website: https://www.nashville.gov/Metro- Council/Legislative-Information-Center.aspx.

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