Nashville’s 37208 zip code has the highest incarceration rate in the entire nation. Area pastors, politicians, and local community leaders recently met at Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church to address this monumental travesty.
The event was hosted by Rev. Breonus M. Mitchell, Sr., pastor of Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, who invited District Attorney General Glenn Funk to help collaborate on what can be done.
“I try to get together with groups from around town to hear concerns and solutions from groups such as this,” said District Attorney Funk. “One of the problems that we have is a criminal justice system that many people have the perception is unfair.
It’s unfair because some people feel like if you are a victim of crime in some parts of town, you are not going to get the same level of service. We’ve been working really hard and we have outreach in a number of areas to make sure that people get the same amount of service from the district attorney.”
“What can we do to help our community that is over policed and over incarcerated,” asked businessman and community leader John Little.
Funk admitted that he was surprised and dismayed when he read the report about the 37208 zip code, saying that part of it may be the result of a policing technique called ‘Broken Windows.’
‘Broken Windows’ is the name given to policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism or public drinking to help create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes.
Critics say that the problem with Broken Windows policing is that it has shown to encourage discriminatory behavior, with many organizations including Black Lives Matter and the Department of Justice saying that it alienates minority groups.
“Part of the problem is that in lower socio-economic neighborhoods the folks want more of a police presence,” said Funk, “but if our response is ‘we are going to saturate the neighborhood with police officers and we are going to arrest and pull more people over,’ we don’t really solve the problem. We just end up with more people in jail.”
Funk spoke about the ‘Ferguson Effect.’
“The premise was, let’s track and see [what happens in Ferguson] because police officers are less likely to ask to search a car when they pull it over,” Funk said. “They don’t want to get into a situation that can lead to a Michael Brown type of case, so fewer arrests were happening. But the violent crime rate is not escalating. What they are seeing is that by de-policing some stuff wasn’t leading to an increase in violent crime.
“We are going to have to start tracking what the cases are that are being brought to us from 37208 and be intentional about making sure that we use the severe sanction of incarceration only on individuals who have committed violent crimes or are a real menace.”
When asked whether the police understand how their practices can sometimes interfere with Funk’s efforts in the community he said: “I met with commander graves of he North precinct. A lot of it is about building relationships, whether it’s police in the community or the DA office in the community. I know that the patrol officers that are on the beat have unbelievable courage and they are called to do that because they are fighting to help the community.”
Dr. Carol Swain, who was in attendance and is also a candidate for Metro mayor said: “The mayor does have enormous power over the police department. I believe that the violent crime problem in this city and this nation has to be addressed by bringing different actors to the table. When it comes to the relationship between the community and the police—that has to be improved.
We cannot have an adversarial relationship between the police and the community. Everyone has to work together. We need a new approach. If we continue to do the same things, we are going to get the same result. We can reduce the violent crime rate and create a program in Nashville that will be copied across the nation.”
“We need a collaboration that specifically targets crime and violence in this city,” said Rev. Breonus Mitchell.
“We need a group in this city, which represents the whole city.”
Rev. Mitchell also commended the attorney general on his help with community issues.
“Glenn has done an exceptional job from where we stand, because our kids are not going to jail like they used to,” he said.
At-Large-Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, who is also running for mayor, said that she along with Bishop Marcus Campbell, has been compiling a list of over 100 organizations and programs that help with violence throughout the city.