Monday, August 25, 2014

Developer seeks community support for Specific Plan on historic structure in Salemtown

The "no dogs house" (1604 6th Ave N) is a well-known structure in Salemtown and over years there has been a regular buzz over what was going to happen to it once someone bought it for redevelopment. It is one of the oldest remaining homes in the neighborhood, but it fell into disrepair over the past few decades.

The following Metro Planning post card grabbed our attention over the weekend:

I was interested in learning more about what was going to happen to the old house, so I followed up with the planners, who replied that the developer plans to renovate (as in, "not demolish") the structure and build new additions to it. They sent me the preliminary specific plan:

Salemtown Neighbors neighborhood association has a business meeting tonight at 6:00 at the Morgan Park Community Center. Their agenda includes a discussion of the rezoning plan with the developer. Any time a "Specific Plan" is proposed by developers, they are required to get community feedback and incorporate it into the plan. The feedback can involve anything about the plan: density, size, design, infrastructure, stormwater impact, continuity, etc. The community meeting process with developers for SP is critical, so I expect meetings like the one tonight to be very important to those of us concerned about our quality of life.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recap of last night's North Nashville town hall meeting on concerns about police after Ferguson

Last night I left my daughter's school orientation events early to attend the "town hall" meeting at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Jeff St. I arrived 30 minutes before it was supposed to start. That was a good thing because the pews of the sanctuary were nearly full by 7:15. They had an overflow crowd in their fellowship hall in the basement to watch a video feed.

There was a panel of African American community leaders and Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson. Those are the folks who did most of the speaking. Police commanders and other cops filled the choir loft while the candidates for mayor and other elected officials not on the program sat in audience at the front.

Meeting organizer, Bishop Joseph Walker, told the audience that the Mt. Zion meeting is the first time in the US that the protests over Michael Brown's death have moved out of the street and into a building for discussion with police and other leaders.

I sat next to a woman from South Nashville who told me that the event had been announced in church at Mt. Zion last Sunday. As far as I know, the mainstream news media did not announce it until Wednesday. What kind of crowds would have shown up if the announcement had gone out across the city over the weekend?

The predominantly white mainstream print and broadcast media looked like it was in full force, so you can probably read or listen to major details and talking points any place today. I'll stick with my own impressions here.

The first thing I have to say about the meeting was that it was a bona fide town hall complete with comments and questions from the audience. It was not a faux community meeting along the lines of the Mayor's bus rapid transit plan or a planning meeting where the only way you can have your questions answered is if you write them down on a permission slip. It was not a NashvilleNext "lounge" designed to lure hipsters and Millennials. It was unadorned, free-style, old-school town hall, which was fine with me. Democracy is messy business.

Beyond meeting logistics the takeaway for me is that Chief Steve Anderson was the main focus of the meeting. I was there until about 8:45 and Chief Anderson took the brunt of questions from the panelists and from the audience on what Metro cops would do if faced with the same events as they unfolded in Ferguson and on how Metro Police are working internally and with the community to prevent racism and brutality.

His department received praise, criticism, questions and notes of caution.

He handled himself serviceably. And I got the impression from audience and panelist responses that people were satisfied with his answers. Chief Anderson opened his comments with a list of mistakes he thought Ferguson police made, the most important one: failing to diffuse the situation two weeks ago when Mike Brown was shot dead (to be specific, he was shot six times, twice to the head) by a cop and kept in the street for hours afterward. The chief also said that not releasing shooting officer Darren Wilson's name immediately was a lapse. "Within the hour there should have been a statement," he told the audience. He described the way that the police handled the aftermath as appearing to be a conspiracy. He argued that they should have been more transparent from the beginning.

However, his ostensible list of mistakes did not include any mention of use of military equipment by police in protest situations. I was troubled by that.

In his comments on how the police would handle protests after police shootings, Chief Anderson told the audience that his department would meet with community leaders before the protests in order to cover organizing and coordination. He said something about "wanting to be with" peaceful protesters. He said that he would allow protesters to break "some of the law" by marching in the streets as long as community leaders understood that the police would maintain order at the end of the day.

Again he had the opportunity to address the use of military weapons on innocent protesters, but did not.

Finally, after a representative from Pacify Nashville read off a list of military weapons that Metro Police could use on the community, Chief Anderson spoke to the problem; but only after he read a list of the ways that military equipment had been used in the 2010 flood and in other emergency situations to help people in distress. It came across to me as dancing around the problem. The real issue here is that the weapons are designed for the battlefield. The possibility of using them against strikes and marches flips social protest to war. They were not designed for less grisly pursuits.

The police chief said that he would not use military equipment in the community "unless absolutely necessary." He only elaborated by saying that police would use it to protect property and life. Then again, the St. Louis County cops would probably argue that they only used it because it was absolutely necessary to protect Ferguson property and life last week as they were gassing residential areas from armored vehicles. The Pacify Nashville rep asked him point blank and the police chief seemed to be reserving the right to use them. Can you imagine a natural disaster where sound cannons like the ones used to drive away Ferguson protesters would be needed by the Metro Police? I cannot.

You can jump to a list, culled by the New York Times a few months ago, of the $4 million in military toys Metro Police has to play with. It is one thing to have an armored truck for use in authentic hostage situations; it is quite another to own a $600,000 "mine-resistant vehicle" and to reserve the right to use it to protect property during social protests. When was the last time Metro Police had to deal with mines?

In the end, I was left with the impression that we are just supposed to trust that the police won't viciously use the military weapons according to the purpose for which they were made. Is trusting the police good enough for the North Nashville community?

UPDATE: Pacify Nashville posted a video of the question they posed to Steve Anderson as well as his response. You will see that as Pacify Nashville read the list of military weapons in the question, gasps and shouts from the audience became louder. After Pacify Nashville asked Chief Anderson to define "strikes and riots" as situations that allow military weapons to be used, the audience applauded in response before the Chief's reply.

Clearly there is great concern in the community about weapons that allow police to scale up police brutality with military weapons. Military weapons do nothing to promote community policing and civil contact with neighborhoods. If there is a committee formed between the police and local citizens in the aftermath of Ferguson, it needs to come up with proper guidelines on the acquisition and use of military weapons by police departments. At some level, Metro Police will have to demilitarize if they want to earn the trust of the community.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Megan Barry should explain her claim that a consolidated government helps Metro Nashville avoid a Ferguson-like tragedy

In the only statement I have seen from mayoral candidate Megan Barry on the implications of the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and the resulting protests and police crackdowns in St. Louis County, she tweeted the following with a link to an Atlantic article on city-county consolidation:

Good piece @CityLab on city/county gov't. Nashville isn't perfect - but consolidated gov't helps.

Helps what? Helps make sure that African-Americans in Nashville get more equitable opportunities? Helps make Nashville less racist? Helps to keep police from turning their powerful military-style weapons against nonviolent protesters and innocent neighborhoods?

Reading the Atlantic piece sheds little or no light on what Ms. Barry is driving at. It claims that consolidated government would "knock down some of the structural barriers that prevent black residents in St. Louis County from succeeding." How has the consolidation of Nashville and Davidson County knocked down structural barriers? Before April 1, 1963 (when Nashville's consolidation became official) one of the most dramatic revolutions in Nashville history occurred when Nashville desegregated. It was in no way facilitated by consolidated government.

Instead, the Nashville sit-ins emerged, lead by young African-Americans--trained in non-violent tactics--who challenged segregated lunch counters by sitting in "Whites Only" areas. They were beat up by violent white mobs and then arrested by the Nashville police. They resisted without returning the violence. They tactically refused bail. As more waves of demonstrators filled up the jails, other African-Americans engaged in a crippling boycott of Downtown businesses.

The climax of the sit-ins occurred after the home of African-American Alexander Looby, who lived in North Nashville, was dynamite-bombed. The next day a large number of Nashvillians marched to the courthouse, where they were greeted by Mayor Ben West, a moderate who had before that day had left questions of segregated lunch counters to storeowners. In a dramatic moment sit-in leader Diane Nash asked Mayor West if he thought segregation was wrong. Mayor West responded: " I appeal to all citizens to end discrimination, to have no bigotry, no bias, no hatred." Taylor Branch tells the rest:

"Do you mean that to include lunch counters?" asked Nash, pressing the issue. She was standing face to face with the mayor. Her bravado hushed the crowd into silence.

"Little lady," West replied trying to be genial, "I stopped segregation seven years ago at the airport when I first took office, and there has been no trouble since."

Nash bored in relentlessly, "Then, Mayor, do you recommend that lunch counters be desegregated?"

West, a moderate white politician skewered in public before an emotional crowd answered the crucial question with a single word, "Yes." This drew cheers.

A short time thereafter Nashville businesses began to desegregate.

Consolidation was still 3 years away. What helped Nashville in 1960 was not unifying city and county governments. What helped Nashville was a disciplined protest movement with a clear strategy, practiced tactics and a willingness to suffer for their cause. What helped Nashville was an economic boycott that brought business leaders to their knees and forced them to see change as progress. What helped Nashville was a mayor who when cornered saw the wisdom of embracing the people's cause, which was also the just cause (even if he continued later to equivocate as moderates do). What would a Mayor Barry be willing to do to help take such a step?

What also helped Nashville was a national context: a movement that would leverage federal laws making segregation illegal. But before Nashville became the first US city to consolidate, it became the first southern city to desegregate. The disciplined non-violent action against segregation at lunch counters and movie theaters continued up through the year of consolidation until the next year with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (making desegregation the law of the land). So, how can Ms. Barry claim, without explanation, that "consolidated gov't helps" keep us from becoming St. Louis County, where racism still seems to have a free hand?

Frankly, the Atlantic piece she calls "good" seems to be using the publicity of the Michael Brown slaying and the situation in Ferguson to draw the frenetic traffic of the last 10 days to arguments that the author deeply holds without real connections to breaking news. As a result I do not find the article compelling. It provides practically no comparative evidence for judging whether events in Ferguson are more likely to happen because of unconsolidated St. Louis instead of consolidated Indianapolis. It makes the bizarre claim that poor people in Ferguson are more prone to predatory lending. As if they are not in cities with consolidated government, like Nashville?

The number of payday lenders has exploded in Nashville as have the campaign donations those lenders give to council members, mayoral candidates, and people running for the General Assembly. If our consolidated government "helps," as Megan Barry claims, how do so many predatory lending outlets charge poor Nashvillians such sky-high interest rates while lining the pockets of powerful politicians? Davidson County no more makes consumer protection from predatory lending a priority than St. Louis County seems to. Is Ms. Barry indicating that she might use consolidated government to regulate the lenders? That would be a breath of fresh air after Karl Dean, who once crowed: "The less regulation of business we do, the better."

I do not have any objections to the concept of consolidated government. It does a lot of good things for Nashvillians. I would not want the separation that plagues St. Louis.

By the same token, I believe that candidates for the Mayor's Office should formulate clear ideas on how they would govern in a crisis like the one in Missouri without reaching for rationalizations just to make us feel better that we are not like them. Ferguson is preying on the minds of many Nashville voters. We should expect clear answers from candidates; not convoluted references to consolidation designed to make our city seem sheltered against prejudice and military-like crackdowns.

Consolidation did not save Nashville from segregation. Why would it shelter us from resegregation?

UPDATE: The Mt. Zion Baptist Church Facebook page announces:

a town hall meeting to discuss the recent Ferguson, Missouri, riots and launch Nashville Unites, an initiative with the following objectives: 1) foster dialogue between police and citizens; 2) propose a community liaison program between precincts and their communities; 3) develop youth leadership; 4) highlight Mt. Zion’s mentoring program for adult men; and 5) commit to follow-through on all initiatives so as to build trust and ensure a more peaceful city that is a national model for collaboration

I am hearing that Megan Barry as well as other candidates for office have signed on to participate. I appreciate that they have put their "ice bucket challenges" on hold long enough to respond to pressing matters that concern the actual responsibilities of a mayor. Maybe we will get some substantive answers from her on what if anything consolidation has to do with stopping police brutality in underrepresented communities. The mayoral candidates are coming to North Nashville.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Metro Nashville Police and their military-style hardware

I have been closely following the fallout of police officer Darren Wilson's shooting of teenager Mike Brown and the resulting protests in Ferguson, MO for the past week or so. I have many impressions I could share, but for now I want to focus on the use of military-style armored vehicles in residential neighborhoods to control violent "agitators". Many of you, like me, have seen Metro Nashville Police display their armored vehicles at community events, and I have to say that I will never look at any of MNPD's military-style weaponry the same way again.

Why not? Because I have seen them deployed against peaceful protesters as well as the "agitators" in Ferguson. I've seen, via Vine videos, innocent kids tear-gassed. I've seen pictures of people gassed in their own yards away from the main sites of protests. I've read accounts of armored vehicles rolling through neighborhoods shooting rubber bullets, pepper-spray-filled paintballs and unleashing enough toxic particulates that--even in closed homes--can endanger the lives of asthmatic children. I've read of a teenager begging a reporter not to leave her neighborhood because she was certain that the only thing between her and a round from a police assault rifle was the watchful presence of journalists.

So, I cannot look at these death-dealing armored vehicles the same way anymore. Even when they are proudly displayed at community events. (And why did we never stop to question how much these rolling behemoths cost taxpayers? Why give the authorities the benefit of the doubt in the first place?) I fail to see any justification for using military-style weaponry in largely pacified residential neighborhoods. It seems like overkill when the biggest threat coming from the handful of "agitators" is something like a couple of handguns and a single Molotov cocktail.

This is what Nashville police used to consider armor:

This is what Nashville police now consider armor:

The changes reflect the political climate post-9/11, but they also reflect a futile "war on drugs," which has been conducted since the 1980s. They also reflect a military-industrial complex, a defense industry that has been allowed to market their wares unchecked by government regulations and encouraged by elected officials who strive to bring home more pork. What they do not reflect is any change in the racial climate since the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s. Police are simply more efficient at dealing out pain and death disproportionately to people of color and to working-class people with military-style plating and and assault weapons (by the way, tear gas is banned from battlefields by international treaties).

Ferguson shows that the most modern armor is overkill outside the battlefield. Police are not just "taking out bad guys" (as they like to say), they are endangering innocent lives and unleashing unnecessary collateral damage. They are laying waste to neighborhoods and people's lives.

Whether you believe that you will ever see one of these military-style monsters roll down your street or cut through the clouds above, unleashing a firestorm of injustice, there are honest poor people, honest people of color who do believe it to be a distinct possibility. If it can happen to them those of us who question the possibility are merely the next in line.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

3rd Annual Heirloom Tomato Fest and Square Dance photos

Last night we drove out of a driving rain in the North Capitol area to the 2014 edition of the Heirloom Tomato Fest in Scottsboro / Bells Bend. While it was wet in the Bend, it only rained a couple of times in the two hours we were there. Square dancers were not deterred in the least by the wet conditions. Grilled cheese, pesto and heirloom tomato sandwiches were offered to go along with the beer enjoyed by revelers. Spirits of those who attended did not seem dampened by the wet conditions, and those who wore their rain boots seemed even happier.

photo credit: Canaan Byrd