Police chief Steve Anderson of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department has released an epic response to criticism for how his department has handled protests that erupted after a grand jury failed to indict an NYPD officer for the death of Eric Garner.
"How long are we going to allow these people to disrupt our city?… I just want myself and my family to feel that our city is safe, and right now we don't feel that way," lamented a citizen in a letter to Anderson, expressing frustration at repeated highway shutdowns, marches, and die-ins that have been taking place across the city.
Considering the complaint, Chief Anderson released an open-letter response, offering a point-by-point defense of his department's strategy of maintaining good community relations (including handing coffee to protesters)—as opposed to, say, breaking out the riot gear and military-issued equipment as a show of force. The letter, titled "A Christmas Message" and addressed to all of the department's employees, is available to read in its entirety online.
"Has consideration been given as to whether the response of the police department “help or hurt the community."
It is our view that every decision made within the police department should be made with the community in mind. Obviously, there are some matters in which we have no discretion. On matters in which we do have discretion, careful consideration is given as to the best course of action, always with the welfare of the general public in mind.
That has been the consideration on this issue. Certainly, in comparing the outcome here in Nashville with what has occurred in some other cities, the results speak for themselves. I stand on the decisions that have been made.
“These actions are putting the department at disharmony from the majority of the citizens.”
While I don’t doubt that you sincerely believe that your thoughts represent the majority of citizens, I would ask you to consider the following before you chisel those thoughts in stone.
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.
It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter. We can still disagree and maintain our opinions, but we can now do so knowing that the issue has been given consideration from all four sides. Or, if we truly give fair consideration to all points of view, we may need to swallow our pride and amend our original thoughts.
And, it is only by giving consideration to the thoughts of all persons, even those that disagree with us, that we can have an understanding as to what constitutes a majority.
“I just want myself and my family to feel that our city is safe, and right now we don't feel that way.”
I have to admit, I am somewhat puzzled by this announcement. None of the demonstrators in this city have in any way exhibited any propensity for violence or indicated, even verbally, that they would harm anyone. I can understand how you may feel that your ideologies have been questioned but I am not aware of any occurrence that would give reason for someone to feel physically threatened.
“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.”
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.
Later, it might be good to point out that the government needs to be, and is, somewhat flexible, especially in situations where there are minor violations of law. A government that had zero tolerance for even minor infractions would prove unworkable in short order.
Chief Anderson ends the letter by giving a lesson in the virtues of police discretion, and responding to the letter writer's son's hypothetical question: "How can I respect the police if they will not enforce the law?"
In the year 2013, our officers made over four hundred thousand vehicle stops, mostly for traffic violations," Anderson wrote. "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.
I do know, however, that this is a very diverse city. Nashville, and all of America, will be even more diverse when your son becomes an adult. Certainly, tolerance, respect and consideration for the views of all persons would be valuable attributes for him to take into adulthood.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.