NASHVILLE, TN –The Black Nashville Assembly held a press conference last week to talk about violence. Several speakers talked about the root causes.

“Public safety is more than police and fire. It’s mental health. It’s adequate housing, it’s jobs, it is economic development that creates safe communities,” said Davie Tucker, Pastor of the Beech Creek Missionary Baptist Church. 

Tucker drew a distinction between community policing and policing the community ”As a city we continue to want to criminalize poverty,” he said. In his mind, there has been too little civilian oversight of the MNPD and too much cooperation by the Community Oversight Board (COB).

Erica Perry had a different take. She described relations between the COB and the MNPD as a chess match. 

Violence interruption programs are not new. Violence reduction and de-escalation techniques have been studied. “And they work,” Tucker said. To be successful they require trusted community partners.

“I think there is a role for grassroots organizations like “Moms Over Murder” to get funding to do the work that they have been doing and actually have been successful at,” Perry said.

People are working to reduce gun violence and de-escalate conflicts before someone gets hurt. In August, twenty-one NGOs received  $5,000 grants from Mayor John Cooper’s $2 million Community Partnership Fund. Some recipients were Why We Can’t Wait, Nashville Peacemakers, Gideon’s Army, Bulletproofed, Inc., and United Brotherhood Ministry. In July, Cooper hired Ron Johnson, Metro’s first Community Safety Coordinator, to help non-profits doing violence reduction work.

The Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church gets funds from MNPD and private donors to operate its summer camp and the “Gentlemen And Not Gangsters” (GANG) program that has worked with teenagers for more than a decade. 

(See https://tntribune.com/helping-young-men-make-better-choices/)

The people engaged in the work, like Bishop Marcus Campbell at Mt. Carmel, don’t care where the money comes from but it has to come from someplace or things are not likely to change. 

Cumberland View apartments in North Nashville have a nickname: Dodge City.

Gideon’s Army

None of the speakers criticized Gideon’s Army that published the “Driving While Black” report in 2016. The group got $1 million from Metro Council for violence prevention. It touted its record at the notorious Cumberland View apartments for lowering the level of violence there.  

Last month, Phil Williams at NEWSCHANNEL 5 reported Gideon’s Army has not measurably increased safety at Cumberland apartments. Williams said there were 38 reports of gunshots during the 10 months Gideon’s Army CEO Fetuga Rasheedat said there were “no shootings, no homicides, no robberies, no car-jackings”. 

On April 12, 2021, three-year-old Jamayla Marlowe was shot to death in the neighborhood. Charles Brooks, a Gideon’s Army employee, was involved in a gun battle last April. Police say he shot in self-defense. A Gideon Army volunteer, Cleveland Shaw, was involved in two shootouts before being shot to death in April. Police say it was gang-related.

None of this is going to sit well with Metro Council or the Mayor when budget talks roll around in a few months. They will take the view that vigilante justice is not the right response to police shootings. It just changes who’s pulling the trigger.

Could both Rasheedat and Williams be right?  Have guns and gang violence disappeared from Cumberland View? No, they haven’t.  Have Gideon’s Army’s efforts to interrupt violence and reduce crime been effective there? Yes, they have. 

These are police stats from 2019-2021 Williams published in his Sept 27 report.

911 calls about people acting crazy

Public safety and guns can have tragic consequences when police respond to someone having a mental health crisis. Tucker said Metro police can go out with a mental health expert in the car. “But it’s the cop who makes the mental health assessment whether or not to let the mental health professional do what they are supposed to do,” Tucker said. 

New York, Portland, and San Francisco handle such cases differently.

When someone goes off the deep end in Eugene, Oregon, two-person teams are dispatched instead of the police. The mental health crisis worker and an EMT do not carry guns. They are trained to deal with mental health issues, homelessness, intoxication, substance abuse, disorientation and dispute resolution. 

New York City sends a three-person team of social workers and mental health professionals who respond to 911 calls where there is no threat of violence. The person in distress accepted the team’s help In 95 percent of those cases and the incidents ended peacefully.

Consider the alternative. Armed police show up to do a welfare check and see someone waving a gun or knife around. If they feel threatened or deem the person a threat to public safety, things can end badly.

According to a Washington Post analysis of about 2,000 fatal police shootings in the U.S. between 2015-2017, about one quarter of those killed displayed signs of mental illness. An internal study by the Los Angeles police department found that 37 percent of police shootings in 2014 involved suspects with known signs of mental illness.

In 2019, the CAHOOTS program in Eugene responded to 24,000 calls. Only 150 required police back-up. That’s 23,850 times when police did not have to respond. The average cost of a police response in Eugene is $800. Between 2014-2017 the city saved $192.6 million with its program that protects people when they are a threat to themselves. 

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