Black Lives Matter: Nashville
The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked protests across America, with some of the most notable taking place in Nashville, Tennessee. Through marches, phone calls, and petitions, Tennesseans have called for legislators to enact meaningful change in the form of public policy. As Nashville responds to Black Lives Matter, we want to keep you abreast of developments in local protests, recent rulings, and ways to get involved.
Unaffiliated Looting and Arson
Nashville has been home to some of the most well-documented protests of the past several weeks. For example, a peaceful demonstration on May 31st gave way to looting and vandalism at the Metro Courthouse, prompting Mayor John Cooper to declare a state of civil emergency. The days following saw 10 p.m. curfews, along with the arrest of 25-year-old Wesley Somers in connection with fires lit at the courthouse.
The Equity Alliance, one of the “I Will Breathe” rally organizers, tweeted, “We witnessed white people defacing public property while marching and told them to stop. The people attempting to set fire to the Metro Courthouse right now are NOT associated with today’s peaceful protest rally… It is our firm belief that those individuals defacing and destroying public property after the rally were not part of the original event.”
Nashville police tried to identify the individuals associated with acts of vandalism, whom they say hijacked the demonstration and used it “as a cover for the destruction they wanted to employ.” Police spokesman Don Aaron said that the Nashville Police Department suspects that white supremacist groups could have been involved, although it is too early to know for sure.
Mayor Cooper voiced his support of the afternoon’s demonstration, tweeting that the rally was peaceful and adding that, “We cannot let today’s message of reform descend into further violence. If you mean our city harm, go home.”
Six Teen Girls Organize Peaceful Protest
Fortunately, the demonstrations that followed have not been marred by outside influence or acts of violence. A particularly bright spot in recent news is last Thursday’s Black Lives Matter protest, which was organized by a group of six teen girls. Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Emma Rose Smith, Kennedy Green, Jade Fuller, and Mikayla Smith – all students ranging in age from 14 to 16 – took just five days to organize the June 4th demonstration.
“We felt like we needed to do more, because change is not going to just happen overnight. We’re teens and we weren’t seeing any youth speaking up because they didn’t feel like they have a voice,” said Emma Rose, 15, a sophomore from Franklin, TN. “We wanted to show teenagers and youth that we need you guys and we do have a voice.”
Emma Rose and the other organizers met on Twitter and formed a group called Teens4Equality. Through a group text thread, the girls coordinated and spread the word, reaching out to other organizations and sharing flyers to social media. They met for the first time on the day of the march, which they hoped would attract at least 1,000 attendees.
More than 10,000 Nashvillians marched alongside them.
In an interview with Good Morning America, the teens emphasized that the demonstration was peaceful and featured people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, just as they had hoped. Their Instagram account has accrued more than 20,000 followers, and the girls are planning a second march for next month.
Nashville Police to Wear Body Cameras
These protests and calls for action have created real results. In an announcement this week, Mayor Cooper told the public that Nashville will begin to outfit Metro police officers with body-worn cameras.
“Since campaigning for office, I have supported body-worn cameras in Nashville and the need to invest in this vital technology the right way. We are delivering on that commitment today, and we are doing it in a cost responsible way.”
The cameras will be deployed beginning this July in Nashville’s West Precinct, with 86 body-worn cameras and 65 patrol car cams, which will provide additional views of incident response. Currently, the West Precinct is the only location with the IT capabilities to support this new tech; the mayor’s office hopes to update other precincts’ infrastructure as soon as possible. The deadline to implementation? Six months from now.
District Attorney General Glenn Funk praised Mayor Cooper for prioritizing this project, stating, “Body cameras will promote trust and accountability for law enforcement and the people of Nashville… These efforts will lead to a safer Nashville.”
Black Lives Matter Leads to Legislation, Other Changes
Fortunately, there appears to be even more legislation in the works. The George Floyd Act (HB2291) would change the way that officers use (or threaten) to use physical, deadly, and excessive force in the line of duty. The bill includes the ban of chokeholds and requires officers to give a verbal warning before firing a weapon, among other provisions. “We need to enact them not later, but right now. The people are crying out for action and that’s what they should get,” said State Representative Mike Stewart.
There have also been calls for the city follow in the footsteps of Chicago and Boston to hire a chief diversity officer. However, Mayor Cooper has not indicated whether this hire will be made. Citing budgetary concerns due to the tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor said, “Everyone recognizes that this budget is not accomplishing what we all went into local government trying to do. Unfortunately, this budget is to get us through… the dramatic loss in revenue.”
Nashville, Get Involved
If you’re looking to get involved with Nashville’s Black Lives Matter movement, there are quite a few ways to do so.
Take to the Streets! Join a peaceful protest whenever you’re able. The girls at Teens4Equality are planning another protest on Independence Day: July 4th. They’ll be providing voter registration, snacks, and water at Bicentennial Capitol Mall Park. There are other gatherings taking place. To learn more about upcoming events…
Stay Updated. Follow Black Lives Matter – Nashville on social media or their website. They will be affiliated with all official acts of peaceful protest, and are a great source of information for local action.
Volunteer Locally. Gideon’s Army is a grassroots organization based in Nashville that seeks to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline through social activism. Their programs address youth violence, policing, and juvenile justice, as well as local problems disproportionately affecting the Black community. This March, they led tornado relief efforts for the North Nashville neighborhood, which saw far less volunteer turnout than Germantown or East Nashville. They have virtual trainings available now – donate today, or join them for a multitude of impactful volunteer opportunities.
Donate to Bail Funds. In this time of historic public demonstration, online fundraising is key. When protestors are arrested, donations to a local bail fund can help demonstrators to go home and plan their defense before trial. The Nashville Community Bail Fund is now accepting donations via PayPal.
Be Mindful of Where You Shop. It’s important to know where your money is going. National and local businesses have taken a stance on Black Lives Matter; after recent racist tweets from owner Jeremy Palmer, the Corner Pub in Green Hills has seen social media backlash, boycotts, and the dissolution of a business partnership. In the complete opposite vein, most local businesses have come out in support of the cause. The Mac Shack, Bryan Lee Weaver (owner of Butcher & Bee), Chopper Tiki, and many others have released statements in support of #BLM. East Nashville favorite Dino’s has also shared a list of Black-owned restaurants to visit. Be intentional of where you’re spending your money during this time.
Educate Yourself on the Issues. Be a better ally by educating yourself on the history of racism in America, along with the issues currently faced by the Black community. This can take the form of reading pivotal works, watching documentaries, and even diversifying your social media feeds. Great Big Story has compiled a helpful guide to this process.
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