Community Oversight Board Interviews

This past Thursday night (January 17, 2019) I sat before a sub-committee of the Metro Nashville Council to be interviewed as a part of the discernment process for election to membership of our new Community Oversight Board, which will work with our police to make sure all are treated equally and with respect. We were asked to respond to three questions and while I didn’t read my statements verbatim, my responses were based on the writings below. I share them for all who have encouraged me in this process to know how I responded.

Briefly, explain your interest in serving on the Community Oversight Board and the reasons you wish to serve.

For almost fifty years now, I have called Nashville home. I moved here as a child, was educated here and have had the honor of working and serving here throughout most of my life. Nashville is home, and I take great pride in this city which welcomed me and made me one of its own.

And yet, I recognize that my experience is not universal. Our story as a city includes repeated efforts to exclude others through the years. Are things better now than they were when bomb threats were made against my elementary school as a protest against racial integration? I believe so. However, we are still a work in progress in ensuring that all of our residents believe that they have a valued place in our city.

It has been clear to me that there are communities and individuals who experienced a criminal justice system that has not always respected their rights and human dignity and who feel unheard in the face of their grievances. The Community Oversight Board was proposed as a means for hearing their voices and offering greater transparency in our criminal justice system, allowing our police and all involved to better serve our community.

I entered the nomination process at the request of several in the communities I work with. I come with open eyes, knowing well the difficulties we face in bringing forth this board into being. The work ahead will be difficult for sure. Yet, I continue in this process of nomination and election to honor those who believe that I have gifts to offer our city through the creation and operation of this organization focused on helping to facilitate an improved relationship between our residents and our citizens.

In my ministry, I have been committed to the work of reconciliation – that is, the restoration of relationships between those who are disconnected from one another. My hope is that this board will create a space to allow concerns (either real or perceptual) to be heard in a new light. My desire is to serve as a bridge between various communities to allow for greater communication in the hope that true reconciliation and justice may be found for all. I am committed to a vision of Nashville as a place where ALL are welcome, in which ALL are valued, and where every person can call it home. I continue to work to make that vision a reality.

Please describe your background, experience, and/or familiarity with civil rights and equity issues.

I am a child of the ’60s, meaning that the arc of my life has been informed and transformed by the struggles in our nation to ensure the rights of all. As a child, I stood on a hill outside the Washington D.C. suburbs and watched that city burn in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. When I moved to Nashville, I was a child affected by the realities of school integration, experiencing the good that comes when all are welcome but also experiencing the hatred by many resistant to change. In my own Methodist tradition, I have been blessed to walk with leaders from throughout the world who have trained me and inspired me to understand that God’s intention for the world is that all persons are created in the image of God and that all persons are of sacred worth.

During the past 20 years, the majority of my work in leading churches has involved engagement with the surrounding neighborhoods which have had highly diverse populations and have often included large pockets of poverty. That engagement has led me to be in conversation with a variety of community leaders around issues of justice and equality, and to serve as an advocate for those who sometimes have a minimal voice in our city. Most recently, that work has focused on ensuring that the right to quality healthcare continues to be offered to the needy of our community through the retention of the Nashville General Hospital.

I should also note that all ordained United Methodist Clergy like myself are required to participate in cultural sensitivity and inclusivity training every four years and that I have recently completed that training for the current quadrennium.

Please describe your background, experience, and/or familiarity with criminal justice and policing practices.

My first contact with the police in my life was at age 6 when (in a story too long to tell here today) I ran away from home leading the police in Prince George’s County, MD to go on a countywide search. When I was found playing at my cousin’s house, the first thing my parents did was to take me to the police waiting at my house and make me apologize to them for my transgression. Frankly, I would have rather been spanked. At age 6 the police were imposing and scary in their uniforms with guns on their hips. But as they listened to my apology with stern faces, I also heard them tell me that they were just happy that I was safe. For me, at that time, I was both fearful of their presence but comforted by their concern. What I know now, however, was that my identity and status allowed me the luxury of comfort that others have not experienced.

In the course of my life and ministry, I have come in contact both personally and through the stories of others with the police department and the criminal justice system. I spent time in my 30’s as a volunteer with the Public Defender’s Office talking to accused persons and hearing their stories. I have had conversations with church members and neighbors trying to navigate the system in regards to their own arrests or the arrests of family members. And, my own family went through a personal experience with the system in the arrest of one of my children at a difficult time in our life together. Some of the stories I’ve heard along the way were positive. Others were not. What these stories did reveal to me was that the system is not monolithic, with a single experience common for all involved. And, unfortunately, these stories affirmed for me my fears that one’s racial identity, economic status, or mental condition seemed to directly impact one’s experience with the system.

As a community leader, I have been engaged in direct relationships with the police in the communities that I have served. We have been partners together in hosting events and ensuring that the residents of those communities are kept safe. There are many good people in our police department and our justice system, and I respect the challenging task that we have entrusted them with.

Policing is a difficult job. On the one hand, many enter that calling with the hope of helping others. On the other, there are times when the task can be adversarial, leading to misunderstandings, violence, and trauma for all involved. For very valid reasons, that can (and has) led to an erosion of trust by all parties in the system. While trust is always difficult to rebuild, I believe that with intentional conversation and respectful accountability it can be rebuilt.

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