Organizations supporting a COB for Nashville
(Updated November 2017)
How we got here
For many years, civil rights, social justice, and religious organizations have called for some type of community oversight for the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD). In the 1990’s, the Nashville Chapter of the NAACP called for a community oversight board after police shot and killed a black resident. Since 2012, in the wake of the rise in police violence against black communities and other communities of color and the subsequent emergence of the movement for black lives across the United States and beyond, community groups in Nashville turned their attention once again to disparities in policing in their own city. During this time, community activists and organizers gathered in multiple configurations to call attention to the fact that policing in Nashville was not so unlike other cities as it claimed, and to give voice once again to the need for change.
In the summer of 2016, in response to uprisings across the country and protests locally, Mayor Megan Barry hosted a series of community conversations on race, equity, and leadership. One of the top priorities emerging for “the next 30 days” after the July gathering was the need for a community oversight board. While these and other conversations took place, Nashville residents raised concerns once again that MNPD’s aggressive policing tactics could result in violence as in other cities. In August 2016, a gathering around the documentary Injustice Anywhere was held at which community leaders again echoed the call for a community oversight board.
In October 2016, Gideon’s Army released its extensive Driving While Black report, which confirmed accounts of black community members by detailing the racially disparate impact of traffic stops conducted by MNPD. Among its list of demands, the report called for a civilian oversight board. On October 30, 2016, at NOAH’s “The People’s Platform” event, Mayor Megan Barry did not affirm the findings of Gideon’s Army’s report, but she did restate her prior commitment to fund body cameras for MNPD officers. That commitment would later receive funding through her annual budget in 2017.
Less than four months after the release of the report, on February 10, 2017, MNPD flex officer Joshua Lippert shot and killed Jocques Clemmons, a black father and Nashvillian, while Clemmons ran away from Lippert after a traffic stop in Cayce Homes. It was soon discovered that Officer Lippert had a lengthy misconduct record, but had received minimal disciplinary action. After Clemmons’ death, and amidst the contentious process of determining who would conduct the investigation into Clemmons’ death, community groups, led by the Justice for Jocques Coalition, renewed their call for a community oversight board in Nashville.
On February 21, organizers and activists from Black Lives Matter Nashville and the Justice for Jocques Coalition interrupted a Metro City Council meeting to demand further attention on the killing of Jocques Clemmons, proposing a list of demands that included the institution of a community oversight board. Following these events, a number of civil rights, social justice, and religious organizations that had already called for or expressed support for an oversight board in Nashville began forming a coalition to push for a COB for Nashville. The evolving coalition began meeting with Metro Council representatives and others in March and April of 2017 concerning a proposed COB legislation, including a budget.
In November 2017, there was legislation introduced on the Metro Council to adopt an independent community oversight board, but this measure was defeated by late January of this year due to inaction by the council. Specifically, on January 23, 2018, the Metro Council voted against holding a public hearing on the oversight board 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.
Therefore, we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands by launching a petition drive for a charter referendum to create an independent community oversight board with compulsory and investigative powers. 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.