Why Nashville needs Police Community Oversight now

Imagine you’re driving up the street, and as you are approaching a parking lot entrance/exit a car pulls out uproariously and suddenly causes you to have to slam on the breaks. You hit the car, damaging its bumper. The driver of the car that pulled out in front of you declares that because you hit him from behind it’s your fault and your fault only and leaves the scene.

You take the assailant’s license plate down. With it, you are able to get sufficient information to file a lawsuit. You see him in court two months later. He’s sitting at the defendant’s table with his lawyer when you walk into court with your lawyer. The bailiff declares for all to rise as the judge comes to the bench. The defendant, the driver of the car that pulled out in front of you, leaves the defense table, climbs the stairs behind the judge’s bench, and puts on a robe from behind the bench. He gavels the court into session and says all can be seated.

To your shock the defendant is the judge in your case. He then declares he’s already investigated the situation, and the person who hit his car is 100% liable and declares the amount of damages he is owed.

This is a ridiculous notion, right? It is utterly absurd that an individual involved in an incident could be judge and jury over the incident he was involved in. Nonsense, right? Well actually, this is the exact situation with the Metro Nashville Police (MNPD). If you have any problem with a police interaction, or you think the police are not conducting their duties properly, or you in some way didn’t get a fair shake in dealing with the police, you must make your complaint or petition to—the police. They get to referee themselves.

And do you want to guess whose favor the police decide in 901% of the time? I bet you can guess it’s not in favor of the people saying the police have done something wrong. I mean how often in your life have you put the blame on yourself for situations or altercations in which you’re involved?

It simply goes against human nature. It defies psychology, and more so it defies simple self-interest for an individual to blame himself, or for an entity to go against one of its own in favor of an ‘outsider.’ That’s why our government in the U.S. Constitution was founded along a concept of checks and balances between different branches of government—including congressional oversight of all agencies in the executive branch, with Congress being the people’s representatives.

Growing up in school, taking civics classes, we were always taught notions of good government being accountable to the people, to the citizens the government serves. No taxation without representation. Sunshine laws swept through state governments in the 1960s and ‘70s, culminating with the federal sunshine act passed in 1976. Government accountability to the people is simply a bedrock of the American social contract. With great power comes great responsibility, so why should the police department with all the power it wields over people’s lives and freedom have less responsibility to the people than any other form of government?

On November 6, Nashville will go to the polls to say that a movement for sunshine on police departments that has been in effect for over 40 years should finally come to pass in Davidson County. It is the only reasonable position to vote when voting on Amendment 1—to bring checks and balances and accountability to the people for Metro police.

Amendment 1 will form an independent Community Oversight Board. It will truly be powered by the people with seven of the 11 members coming from the community, and four by political appointment of the mayor and the council. But no current law enforcement may referee themselves. This board would not have power over the police, but will have independent investigatory power, a staff and a budget to adequately look into any actions citizens have with the police. It will be somewhere the people can go for redress of their government (another central tenant of the constitution).

Quite frankly, I can see no legitimate reason why any citizen would oppose the measure. It’s the American way! So, I hope you’ll register to vote by October 9, and vote for Amendment 1 on November 6.

(Yobachi Boswell is the Deacon of the New Life SDA Church).