Nashville Police Responded Peacefully to Peaceful Protesters, and That Made Some Folks Upset


Why can't it be Nashville every night?
Credit: (aka Brent) / photo on flickr

Hundreds of protesters marched into downtown Nashville in November, upset, as were some people in other cities, that Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting and killing Michael Brown. The protest was peaceful, but did block some streets for a while, including Interstate 24.

The Nashville police and its chief, Steve Anderson, decided not to respond with militarized force and orders to disperse. Police closed the affected streets to keep the protesters safe and offered coffee and hot cocoa to marchers who arrived in front of the downtown police station.

Local African-American church leaders were pleased with how Anderson responded, but not everybody was happy that the Nashville Police didn't show these rabble-rousers who was in charge. As part of his Christmas message to his officers, Anderson shared with them an angry e-mail from a citizen who wanted to know why the police didn't knock some heads to keep the community "safe," as well as his response to the writer. The exchange, as well as Anderson's Christmas letter was picked up by The Tennesseean. Here's the full letter to Anderson. Read in your best "Well, I never!" voice:

I wanted to send you this email to express my frustration and outrage at how the situation of these protesters is being handled in Nashville. The first night protesters marched here after the incidents in Ferguson they never should have been allowed to shut down the interstate. Instead of at least threatening to arrest them, they were served coffee and hot chocolate. I don't feel that is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. It sends a message that they can do whatever they want and will be rewarded. Then, this past week, more protesters march around downtown for 3 or more hours and once again, no arrests, and it took THP to keep them from getting on the interstate again. Saturday night, marching and "die ins" at Opry Mills mall. How long are we going to allow these people to disrupt our city?

I have a son who I have raised to respect police officers and other authority figures, but if he comes to me today and asks "Why are the police allowing this?" I wouldn't have a good answer. If any other group of people wanted to march around the streets they would have to get a permit weeks or months in advance, and I know it's not possible to get a permit to obstruct traffic and walk on the interstate.

Please understand I am not trying to disrespect you or your department, I just want myself and my family to feel that our city is safe, and right now we don't feel that way. Is this going to be allowed to continue until someone gets hurt? Protection of the city should be coming from MNPD, not THP. I also understand that you get direction from the mayor's office, but these actions are putting the department at disharmony from the majority of the citizens. At some point you are going to have to answer this question to yourself—"Am I following or giving orders that help or hurt the community?" In closing, if these recent actions have been due to pressure from the mayor's office, please reach out to the people of Nashville, there are many who will gladly contact the mayor's office as well.

Anderson's response is much too long to print in its entirety. But here's how Anderson responds to the writer's demand for a zero tolerance policy toward the citizenry:

Although this is unlikely, given your zero tolerance stance, suppose that, by accident or perhaps inattention, you found yourself going 40 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone and that you were stopped by a police officer. Then, after making assurances that licenses were in order and that there were no outstanding warrants, the officer asked you not to speed again and did not issue a citation, but merely sent you on your way.

As you have suggested, a question may come to you from the back seat, "How can I respect the police if they will not enforce the law?" In the event this does occur, here are some facts that might help you answer that question.

In the year 2013, our officers made over four hundred thousand vehicle stops, mostly for traffic violations. A citation was issued in only about one in six of those stops. Five of the six received warnings. This is the police exercising discretion for minor violations of the law. Few, if any, persons would argue that the police should have no discretion.

This is an explanation you might give your son. Take into account, however, that the innocence of children can produce the most profound and probing questions. They often see the world in a very clear and precise manner, their eyes unclouded by the biases life gives us. This could produce the next question. "If you believe that the police should enforce the law at all times, why didn't you insist that the officer write you a ticket?"

I don't have a suggestion as to how that should be answered.

Read the rest of the letter here, as well as the chief's Christmas letter to his officers.