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Nashville Voters Mandate Community Oversight of Police - Communities throughout TN prepare to expand

In Nashville, TN community members and grassroots organizers have won a huge victory in the fight to end police brutality and gain accountability with the passing of Amendment 1 on the midterm ballot. After decades of struggle for police accountability, the recent police murders of Jocques Clemmons and Daniel Hambrick and the leadership of their families sparked a renewed demand and grassroots campaign for community oversight. The amendment to the Nashville Metro Charter creates a civilian Community Oversight Board which can “...issue reports assessing allegations of misconduct by MNPD officers and make policy recommendations to public safety and justice administration agencies... recommend that discipline be given within the parameters of civil service rules... has the option of forwarding findings of criminal misconduct and civil rights violations to the District Attorney, the Grand Jury, or the United States Attorney.” A Political Action Committee (PAC) lead by members of the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police spent $486,185 trying to defeat Amendment 1 and lost; while the pro-Amendment PAC Accountability Matters only spent $11,380. Money did not win, the people did. We can win community control of the police in Chattanooga as well, and it will take the leadership and energy of community members and grassroots organizations to make it possible.

Working class and particularly Black communities in Chattanooga need defence from the dangerous police officers that brutalize, terrorize, and criminalize our people every day. The Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) is currently allowed to oversee themselves through Internal Affairs, and have consistently failed to discipline or fire its violent, murderous, and dishonest officers who patrol the streets.This is not what democracy looks like. Community members, especially those directly impacted by police violence and misconduct, must be directly involved in the process of holding police accountable.

Many local officials claim the existing Administrative Review Committee keeps Internal Affairs in check, and is in effect community oversight. Here is the existing board, according to the City of Chattanooga:

“Is there any citizen review? The Administrative Review Committee was formed for the purpose of reviewing and considering the recommendations concerning Conduct Violations and making its own recommendations to the Deputy Chief and Chief of Police. The ARC is composed of seven (7) members as follows: one Assistant Chief, who shall also serve as Chairperson of the ARC, three private citizens, and three Police Officers of the Department who are appointed by the Chief of Police. The Chief appoints one Officer, one Sergeant and one Lieutenant to serve on the ARC.”

This Review Committee consists mostly of police officers. The Committee’s decisions are only advisory in role, and have no real power to discipline officers or to set and/or change policies. They basically review internal affairs reports. Between 2009 and 2014 (the only span we currently have data for), Internal Affairs only found 13% of complaints in favor of the citizens with grievances against the Police Department. We cannot continue to allow CPD’s unaccountability to the rest of us. Unlike Chattanooga Police Department’s Administrative Review Committee, the Community Oversight Board avoids conflicts of interests by being overseen by civilian community members- with no current or recent (last 5 years) law enforcement personnel, their families, or elected officials.

Chattanooga officials, old and new, love the image of change and innovation but rarely the hard work of confronting and dismantling harmful, powerful institutions. What lies at the core of these oversight battles is unjust power between the Police Department, their allies, and the Black and working class communities over-policed by CPD- importantly what that imbalance means for our peoples’ safety. Those most affected by police violence and misconduct should have the lead in addressing these issues. Efforts to push or pursue a watered-down or less impactful version of oversight which fails to address these issues and create a level of control for the communities most impacted will be met with resistance. On the other hand, CCJ looks forward to building and working with a broad coalition of community members, organizations, and officials who are committed to fighting for transformation. We demand an increase in safety and democracy. We must move decision making power from the police to the community through an elected or appointed board whose interest in accountability is not conflicted by “fraternity.”

Organizers and community members in Nashville defeated police efforts to resist accountability in the election, and now face the challenge of implementing the board while Republican lawmakers plot in opposition at the state level (Rep. Glen Casada said on November 9th that he “plans to explore whether to pursue state action that could pre-empt” implementing the Board). A core strategy of Tennessee’s far-right Republican legislature is to nullify progressive wins on the local level by passing preemptive laws- over the last ten years this has been used to outlaw living wage ordinances and affordable housing protections, among other things. At the federal level, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed off on strict new guidelines around consent decrees (court-mandated contracts between the Department of Justice and local governments to revamp police departments hit with allegations regarding abuse and civil rights violations). The need for community control of the police at the local level is more crucial now than ever before.

CCJ is in full solidarity with our family in Nashville and others across the state who are rising up against police violence. We are working to spread civilian oversight of the police to Chattanooga, and defend the movement’s wins from backward officials in the State. We invite folks across the city and surrounding area to join us as we build community control here in our community. Stay tuned to CCJ for more details and ways to get engaged in the fight- and save the date for Community Control Now: On the Road to Liberation, Tuesday, January 15th (6pm-9pm) at Bethel AME Church (2000 Walker St.) as part of the Unity Group’s MLK Week of action.


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