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Nashville, TN–Today (April 4), on the 50th observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, the Community Oversight Now coalition launches a petition drive for a charter referendum to create an independent Community Oversight Board (COB)with compulsory and investigative powers. The announcement will take place at a 5:30 pm press conference in front of the East Precinct police station, 936 E. Trinity Lane, Nashville, TN 37207.
Dr. King was an early advocate of Community Oversight Boards (also called Civilian Review Boards) and considered them an important instrument for addressing police misconduct and accountability. Nashville advocates have also pushed for oversight boards since the early 1990s. Renewed demands for a COB occurred in February 2017 after the killing of Jocques Clemmons by Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) Officer Joshua Lippert. The COB referendum is more pressing today given the nearly 700 civilian complaints filed each year against the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) from 2005-2015 (7,000 total), 98% of which were decided against the complainants.The “Driving While Black” report assessing 2 million MNPD stops, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, and Nashville’s District Attorney all found racial and institutional bias in MNPD practices.
The Nashville charter permits a referendum if petitioned by a percentage of registered voters, the number of which is based on the voter turnout in the previous local, general election. For this referendum, 4,300registered voters must sign the petition by the first week of August. Upon validation, the referendum will be placed on the November 6thballot. Since the charter referendum campaign will coincide with the August primary and November general elections, it can now be used to evaluate the candidates’ positions on police accountability.
Nashville urgently needs a COB to address police accountability and restore ethical governance. On January 23, 2018, the Metro Council voted against holding a public hearing on the COB proposal, although it had previously allocated an annual appropriation of $220 million to MNPD. The “No” vote eliminated any chance for residents to participate in a Council-sponsored public hearing about police accountability. By voting against a public hearing, the Council reversed an earlier promise made after the Clemmons’ killing for transparency and democratic governance. Council further rejected a resolution to create a Task Force for the COB despite the Mayor’s endorsement of the proposal last October.
In addition, we are encouraged by the Tennessee Attorney General’s legal opinion No. 18-07 issued on March 8, 2018. The opinion authorizes the use of subpoena power for civilian review/community oversight boards in most police misconduct investigations and policy reviews (pending criminal investigations are exempt). Section 18.10 of the Nashville charter grants boards/agencies equivalent power (or the power to compel) that would make the proposed COB one of the strongest in the nation.
The COB charter referendum demonstrates that Dr. King’s pursuit of nonviolence, liberation and justice is not just a dream or propaganda rolled out for anniversaries and commemoration ceremonies. The COB represents the best of Dr. King and the most significant step Nashville has taken to address police accountability.
The push by Community Oversight Now for an independent and investigative agency to address police accountability is 25 years in the making, as Nashville civil rights activists initially proposed it in 1992. Furthermore, a review board with independent powers has been a central demand of civil rights and police accountability advocates since the 1960s. In fact, Martin Luther King, Jr. first endorsed this measure in the 1960s.
Other reasons why Nashville needs an independent, oversight board are:
- Nearly 700 citizen complaints were filed each year against the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) from 2005-2015 (7,000 total), 98% of which were decided against the complainants.
- Countless citizens whose rights are allegedly violated by law enforcement, including domestic violence survivors, never file complaints because they see the process as flawed and fear retaliation.
- The “Driving While Black” report assessing 2 million MNPD stops from 2011-2015 found racial bias regarding police stops and roadside searches.
- Statements from the District Attorney and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation offices have noted institutional bias in the action of the MNPD during the investigation of the killing of Jocques Clemmons.
- In Summer 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service recommended an independent police oversight board for Nashville.
- The Davidson County Grand Jury requested more civilian input in allegations of law enforcement misconduct in its “end-of-term” report in Spring 2017.
Welcome to the website for the campaign to build Nashville’s first community oversight board (COB) establishing democratic accountability and disciplinary control over the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), led by a coalition of Nashville community organizations. From the menu at the top of the page you can see the components of our Proposed Legislation, learn answers to the question “Why a Community Oversight Board?”, view the organizations that comprise our Coalition, and Contact us.
Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved! Be sure to check out our Facebook page!