Truth & Reconciliation Project on Policing | Vanderbilt Divinity School

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Vanderbilt Divinity School is partnering with Gideon’s Army for a series of public truth and reconciliation hearings on community members’ experiences of policing in Nashville. The first hearing is March 28, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Vanderbilt Divinity School. More information about the hearings (dates, times, locations) can be found below. As we have said before, “The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that it exists.” These hearings are one way of continuing to help the entire Nashville community acknowledge that a problem exists, and to better understand that problem.

To prepare for the public hearings, Vanderbilt Divinity School is asking community members to submit testimonies detailing experiences with policing in Nashville. Gideon’s Army encourages community members to submit their testimonies in order to further build up the public record of experiences of policing in our community. Visit this website to submit your testimony. Please share this information in your networks and encourage Nashville community organizations working with residents affected by policing to share this testimony submission form throughout their networks.

Learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Project on Policing at the Vanderbilt Divinity School website. Here are the basics, copied from their website:

The Scope

Vanderbilt Divinity School, in partnership with Gideon’s Army and the Nashville community, will host four Truth and Reconciliation Hearings on Policing. We will invite black, brown, queer, and white allies to tell and listen to personal stories of police abuse and dehumanizing local policing practices. Those giving testimony will help uncover the experience of policing, its methodologies, and habits. From these transcripts, with the community (and hopefully with cooperation from Metro Nashville Police Department), we will work: (1) to further develop a Citizen Oversight Board, (2) to understand and challenge policing policy and procedure in Nashville, beginning with a commitment by the police to reassess its policy and procedures and treatment of communities of color, (3) to negotiate a community covenant will that includes ten expectations for how we treat each other in the process of human centered policing in the community to preempt the phenomenon of police brutality and violence toward police in Nashville, and (4) to develop continuing education seminars on race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, community centered policing, and restorative justice.

The Process

Houses of worship, nonprofits, and community organizations are invited to host listening sessions for people to talk about their experiences with local police over the last decade. We have outlined a list of questions to frame your testimony. We ask that you use this framework for the listening sessions and for the public hearings. These religious, nonprofit, and community leaders will hear your testimonies then recommend to us the stories they find compelling for the public hearings to be hosted at VDS. We also have an online process where you may submit your testimony directly to us. We will select all the statements we receive from the community and notify the people we would like to stand testimony for one of the dates mentioned below. In total, 28 people will give testimony at VDS over four dates.

Dates and Location

March 28, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

April 22, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

April 29, 12:00 – 2:00 pm

May 16, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

All hearings will be held in the Reading Room of Vanderbilt Divinity School (located one floor up from the ground level).

Please arrive 30 minutes before event for registration and seating.

Each hearing will be video-recorded.

Guests attending these hearings may park in any non-reserved Zone 2 parking space in the Wesley Garage after 4:30 pm.

Racial Disparities in Officer Lippert’s Traffic Stop & Search Practices

On Friday, February 10, MNPD officer Joshua Lippert stopped 31-year-old black Cayce Homes resident Jocques Scott Clemmons for running a stop sign. Clemmons, seemingly trying to avoid any confrontation with the officer, took off on foot, but Lippert followed and shot Clemmons in the back as he ran. The father of two young boys, beloved by his family, friends, and community, Clemmons died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center a short time later.

As we summarized in our Driving While Black report, released less than four months ago, “‘driving while black’ constitutes a unique series of risks, vulnerabilities, and dangers at the hands of MNPD that white drivers do not experience in the same way.” Given the over-policing that black community members endure, and the fear and anxiety that traffic stops induce for many black drivers, it is little surprise that Clemmons sought to avoid interacting with the officer at any cost. For trying to preserve his own life, Clemmons lost it.

A review of Officer Lippert’s disciplinary infractions shows a troubling history of use of excessive force. Subsequent stories have also been released detailing the nature of Lippert’s interactions with drivers. What has not yet been made public, however, are the exact number of Lippert’s stops and searches of black drivers. Using the same MNPD traffic stop database analyzed in the Driving While Black report, we release today a brief analysis of Officer Lippert’s equally egregious stop and search practices during 2016.

Officer Lippert’s traffic stop records for 2016 show that nearly 90% of the stops he made were of black drivers. His rate of stopping black drivers is disproportionate to the black population of any of the census tracts he patrolled. Census tracts are small county subdivisions that the Census Bureau uses to report population demographics. Compared to the average rate for other officers assigned to the same census tracts, Officer Lippert’s rate of stopping black drivers was 20% to 50% higher than other officers in the same areas. (See Table 1 and Figure 1. See Figure 4 for a map of census tracts where Officer Lippert patrolled and made more than 10 traffic stops in 2016.)

table-1-officer-lipperts-traffic-stops-2016-3figure-1-lipperts-traffic-stopsOfficer Lippert also searched drivers at astronomical rates. His rate for conducting any search (30.6%) is five times greater than officers patrolling the same census tracts (5.1%). His search rate vastly outpaced his colleagues in every census tract and across both forms of discretionary searches, consent and probable cause. (See Table 2 and Figure 2.)

table-2-officer-lipperts-searches-of-black-drivers-in-2016-compared-to-other-officersfigure-2-lipperts-traffic-stopsAs we outline in the full Driving While Black report, not only are discretionary searches used far more often on black drivers, officers are less likely to find incriminating evidence on black drivers than they are on white drivers. Officer Lippert’s search patterns show the same disparities: on black drivers, Lippert found 13 items of evidence in probable cause searches, and one item in a consent search. (See Figure 3.)

figure-3-officer-lipperts-search-success-rates-2016While it is true that Officer Lippert, as a flex officer, is typically assigned to patrol locations based on crime reports, the racial disparities in his stop and search numbers cannot be explained away by reference to alleged criminal activity in the areas he patrols. As we show in previous analyses, MNPD’s “we police where there is crime” justification does not stand because Officer Lippert’s stops and searches show racial disparities in every census tract he patrols, including in predominantly white areas. MNPD has also defended such racial disparities by arguing that such numbers are merely a consequence of the fact that they are only doing their job of keeping people safe in predominantly black, high-crime communities. If that were true, Jocques Clemmons would still be alive today.

While Officer Lippert’s stop and search practices show immense racial disparities, it should be understood that his actions are not an exception to but an expression of MNPD’s basic stop and search patterns, just in a particularly severe form. For this reason, Gideon’s Army condemns Officer Lippert’s actions, as well as the racially disproportionate stop and search regime of which it is a part. Moreover, holding Officer Lippert accountable also requires holding the entire Metro Nashville Police Department accountable for the discriminatory impact its practices have on communities of color. When we examine Officer Lippert’s record of disciplinary infractions, including several instances of excessive use of force, in combination with his troubling record of stopping and searching black drivers at rates dramatically higher than officers in the same areas, we see a clear recipe for racialized police brutality. In this instance, it has led to death. The lack of oversight on the part of Chief Anderson’s MNPD to monitor and report this information, and ultimately prevent the violence that transpired last week, supports the urgent demand for an independent civilian review board to protect the community from undue harm. We join Jocques Clemmons’ family, friends, and supporters in calling for such action.

Figure 4: Census Tracts Where Officer Lippert Made More than 10 Stops in 2016figure-4-lippert-census-tract-mapTo read our report and our subsequent statements and to view our public presentations, see the links below:

Full Driving While Black report

Executive Summary of Driving While Black report

Our rebuttal to MNPD’s unsatisfactory justification of racial disparities in traffic stops

Presentations by Gideon’s Army and MNPD to Metro Council regarding Driving While Black report

Gideon’s Army on Facebook