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.

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A Response to Chief Anderson’s Letter to Metro Council

 

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Chief Anderson’s belated letter to Metro City Council points out important debates in research on police officers’ racial bias but is entirely unsatisfactory as a response to Gideon’s Army’s Driving While Black report. Chief Anderson is correct that a single statistic cannot prove that “racially biased policing”—which MNPD defines as choosing to stop drivers “based solely” on their race—is causing the racial disparity in initial traffic stops. We do not make this argument in the report. We do make the argument that the observed racial disparities in stops, searches, and finding evidence during searches demonstrate a harmful discriminatory impact on black communities, likely stemming both from individual officer decisions and disparately impactful institutional policies and norms.

Chief Anderson cites several sources to show that racial profiling should be defined as an individual officer’s decision to stop a driver based solely on a group characteristic. He quotes the first sentence of the American Civil Liberties Union’s webpage on racial profiling but omits their critique of his definition a few paragraphs later. They state:

Defining racial profiling as relying “solely” on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion can be problematic. This definition found in some state racial profiling laws is unacceptable, because it fails to include when police act on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion in combination with an alleged violation of all law. Under the “solely” definition, an officer who targeted Latino drivers who were speeding would not be racial profiling because the drivers were not stopped “solely” because of their race but also because they were speeding. This would eliminate the vast majority of racial profiling now occurring (American Civil Liberties Union 2017).

Similarly, the Department of Justice does not establish that individual officers acted solely based on race when concluding that discriminatory racial impact and constitutional violations occurred in Baltimore and Ferguson. Using Census data, they argue that,

While there are limitations on using population data to benchmark vehicle stops because the proportion of drivers on roadways does not necessarily match the population living in a particular area, there are strong indications that BPD’s high rate of stopping African-American drivers is discriminatory (U.S. Department of Justice 2016:52).

Drawing methodologically from the DOJ’s Ferguson and Baltimore reports, we argue that the data show a consistent racially disparate impact across the county on multiple indicators. Chief Anderson’s letter to Metro Council overlooks discriminatory impact from probable cause and consent searches as well as the fact that officers are less likely to find evidence of a crime on black drivers. Our 22 interviews with black Nashville residents make clear that it is these discriminatory practices that are undermining police-community relations, not our report aimed at transforming policing and strengthening communities. The voices of community members were not mentioned in his letter.

In terms of methodology, Chief Anderson makes an important point: unadjusted Census benchmarks do not tell the full story of officers’ decision-making, but they can be strengthened through several adjustments, which we address in our report. First, to clarify several inaccuracies in Chief Anderson’s statement, prisoners are not included in the American Community Survey (ACS) since it only measures the non-institutionalized population and college students living in dorms are included in the ACS (U.S. Census Bureau 2016). The American Community Survey is continuously collected and estimates the population of metropolitan areas with more than 65,000 people annually. As recommended by Lorie Fridell (2004), one of the experts cited by Chief Anderson, ACS data can be adjusted by using the driving age population in combination with the proportion of households with access to vehicles.

The Driving While Black report assessed stops of residents separately from non-residents—as recommended by Fridell—since it matches the traffic stops to the benchmark being used (See Finding 2). Chief Anderson states that black drivers are 10% overrepresented; however, when excluding non-residents—as recommended by scholars—the disparity increases to 15%. If we adjust the Census benchmark for likely drivers through household car ownership, the black-white disparity would be even greater with black residents being 17.5% overrepresented in traffic stops. In 2014, 13.9% of black Nashville residents did not have access to a vehicle. White and Hispanic residents had greater access to vehicles with only 3.4% of white residents and 4.6% of Hispanic residents not having a vehicle (See Footnote 2 on page 37 of the report).

Chief Anderson can make insinuations about our ethics and research expertise, saying that we are “morally disingenuous” for promoting “a false narrative of racial profiling.” He can “categorically deny” that MNPD engages in racial profiling, and that community members asking for change are just biased against police. But the fact that MNPD’s policing strategy has a discriminatory impact on black communities, as black community members have been saying for years, will not change through denial, or through insufficient attempts at legitimizing these disparities, as we have previously shown. As community organizer D.J. Hudson stated at a recent press conference regarding Chief Anderson’s letter,

Not only to not hear the core assertion, which is that there is a problem here in Nashville, but to then assert that there is no problem and that the people who are identifying a problem are lying, shows a severe breach in this narrative that he is trying to paint, that things are cozy and all is well in Nashville.

The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel (2014), scholars at the University of Kansas, argue that the practice of pulling over many people in order to catch a few people who have committed crimes—or “looking past the stop” in MNPD parlance—deeply undermines community trust in police and limits communities’ ability to act collectively to reduce crime. They argue that, “the immediate task is to change institutionalized practices that have become the taken-for-granted definitions of professionalism, of what it means to do good police work” (Epp et al. 2014:160). Further, they state:

Changing norms and practice will also require the leadership of professional policing to frankly acknowledge and actively promote the message that investigatory stops cause harm. They cause harm even when the officer’s street-wise hunch draws attention to a driver or pedestrian and when the officer remains courteous and professional throughout the encounter. The current message from leaders that these stops ‘work’ is at best grossly imbalanced, at worst simply false. Every stop of an innocent person causes direct, palpable harm (Epp et al. 2014:161).

Gideon’s Army works to dismantle institutional injustices that are deeply ingrained in the criminal justice system. Chief Anderson just told us that he does not see discrimination as an institutional problem but a problem of single individuals acting on bias. This outdated and inaccurate understanding of racial discrimination undermines his credibility on issues of race and policing. Nashville deserves more.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. 2017. “Racial Profiling: Definition.” Retrieved July 3, 2017 (https://www.aclu.org/other/racial-profiling-definition).

Epp, Charles R., Steven Maynard-Moody, and Donald P. Haider-Markel. 2014. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship. University of Chicago Press.

Fridell, Lorie A. 2004. “By the Numbers: A Guide for Analyzing Race Data from Vehicle Stops.” Police Executive Research Forum Washington, DC.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2016. “Group Quarters/Residence Rules.” Retrieved July 3, 2017 (https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/guidance/group-quarters.html).

U.S. Department of Justice. 2016. Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department.