Nashville’s chief of police Steve Anderson wrote an incredibly thoughtful response to a critic of the department’s handling of #BlackLivesMatter protests here.
Here in Nashville, protestors were allowed to (briefly) shut down major roadways, including I-24 running through downtown. Here’s how the first night of protests, back in November, went:
Instead of responding with arrests or tear gas, Anderson shut down I-24 to allow the demonstrators to stage their protest safely. As he told reporters during a press conference, it was his duty: “We have to safeguard life, even if people put themselves in some peril.” Anderson further noted that arresting protesters one by one would have taken hours; instead, after about 25 minutes, police reopened the highway, and protesters continued on their way.
In essence, Nashville’s police department made a decision to treat the protests like a parade, an event at which the law enforcement role is to provide security, not confront danger. Officers even greeted protesters with hot chocolate when they showed up at the police department. When the protesters went off script, taking to the highway unexpectedly, the police response didn’t vary. According to Anderson, a group of ministers showed up the following day, “bright and early, just to tell us how proud they were of what went on last night”—a response that he attributed to the close relationships between the department and community groups.
“In Nashville, if you want to come to a public forum and express your thoughts, even if they’re against the government, you’re going to get your First Amendment protection, and you’re going to be treated fairly by the police officers involved,” Anderson said. “That’s what we do here in Nashville.”
A few folks of a more punitive inclination weren’t happy about that, and Chief Anderson shared an email he received about it, which our local paper has reprinted. The critic wrote that he (or she) raised their children to respect the police, wondered if the MNPD was getting pressure from Mayor Dean to not make arrests, and criticized the response as “putting the department at disharmony from the majority of the citizens.”
After assuring the writer that the department’s response was made without any interference from Mayor Dean, Chief Anderson wrote:
As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us. Unfortunately, there is even more of a human tendency to stay within our comfort zone by further narrowing those associations to those persons who share our thoughts and opinions. By doing this we can avoid giving consideration to thoughts and ideas different than our own. This would make us uncomfortable. By considering only the thoughts and ideas we are in agreement with, we stay in our comfort zone. Our own biases get reinforced and reflected back at us leaving no room for any opinion but our own. By doing this, we often convince ourselves that the majority of the world shares opinion and that anyone with another opinion is, obviously, wrong.
In other words, your is not the majority opinion. And then this little nugget:
It is somewhat perplexing when children are injected into the conversation as an attempt to bolster a position or as an attempt to thwart the position of another. While this is not the type of conversation I ordinarily engage in, here are some thoughts you may find useful as you talk with your son.
First, it is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.
Exactly. Because government isn’t a building somewhere, it’s people. Of the people, by the people, for the people.
Thank you, Chief Anderson, for reminding us all of that. Kudos.