By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — P. Danielle Nellis is adding to her family’s legacy in her bid for the district attorney role this year.
If elected, she would be the first female and Black District Attorney in Davidson County.
Nellis graduated from Spelman College where she studied education with a major in Spanish and holds a law degree from Boston University. She has previously worked as an Assistant District Attorney.
Nellis, the granddaughter of Rev. Dr. Inman E. Otey, Sr., said she not only has the professional experience to qualify her for the job, but also personal experience—She pointed to the murders of two family members as well as her family’s experience with police brutality.
“We need people willing to challenge current thought,” she said of the criminal justice system. For Nellis, the judicial system is one tool within an arsenal to ensure public safety and the arbitration of justice.
Now, she remarked, “[W]e must examine the system’s foundation that has looked at some people as not a whole person … We must have the capacity to consider the humanity of all Nashvillians and work to heal damage.”
Nellis said she believes in restorative justice and accountability, noting the two are not mutually exclusive.
Nellis said she draws inspiration from the many iconic figures of Nashville as well as her matrilineage; her mother and grandmother were known for their commitment to the underserved, and that’s a legacy Nellis said she hopes to continue in her own life.
Her campaign website states that a “District Attorney must be conscientious of the community she serves and the role she plays in addressing the root causes of criminal behavior so that the real problem is addressed and injustice is not perpetuated upon victims or defendants as they interact with the criminal justice system.”
The DA’s office has the power over which cases to pursue, which Nellis said too often operates with reactionary prescriptions.
“A change in perspective and stance cannot be motivated by politics, acquisition of power, or the perpetuation of a system that fails victims, defendants and community alike,” Nellis said.
Further, she noted that prosecution is “more effective and just for the entire community” when accountability, equity, harm reduction and healing are prioritized.
Nellis has posted a working policy book on her campaign website and urges the public to provide feedback that “allows for the creation of solutions that support the needs and interests of stakeholders compared to relying on historical data and practices or making assumptions about these communities,” the site reads.
If elected, Nellis said she would develop a continuing education program within her first year for office members to make sure each are aware of the mission and policies of the Office, with targeted training being utilized based on audit results.
“It cannot be overstated that we are facing a state of emergency in terms of violent crime, the unbiased application of justice, and meeting the needs of a growing city. Now is the time to correct the course so the criminal
justice system does not become our weakest link. In our moments of greatest need – be it flood, tornado or pandemic – this city has marshaled its individual and institutional resources to heal the harm caused by unexpected natural disasters. It is time for us to rise to the occasion and address the issues facing our criminal justice system together,” the site continued.
You can find her policy book, which she jokingly refers to as “18 pages of light reading,” at nellisfornashville.com.