Nashville Town Hall Meeting On Ferguson Discusses Discrimination And How To Ease It

Mount Zion Baptist Church on Jefferson Street was standing-room only Thursday evening. In addition to the police chief, commanders from all of the city's precincts attended the meeting. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Mount Zion Baptist Church on Jefferson Street was standing-room only Thursday evening. In addition to the police chief, commanders from all of the city’s precincts attended the meeting. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Several hundred people squeezed into a North Nashville church Thursday night to hear what police had to say about the events in Ferguson, Mo.

Similar town hall meetings have been held in Dallas, Texas, and Sacramento, California. Organizers in Nashville say it’s important to have a discussion about the black community’s relationship with the police.

Among the mostly African-American audience, some thanked the police for their service, but others talked about perceived discrimination.

“How does Nashville police force reflect the demographics of who you’re serving?” asked a man who said he was from Ferguson — where, he said, the officers don’t reflect the racial breakdown of the community.

“I’ve heard that response times are slower in minority neighborhoods and I’m wondering if that’s true,” one woman asked.

“I have sons, and they are afraid of the police,” another woman asked. “So are you guys prepared for a child or a black male feeling that there is eminent danger?”

Dozens of people asked questions at the Nashville town hall meeting on Ferguson, Mo. Among them was longtime Nashville resident Ed Kindall, who asked about the frequency of diversity training within the police department. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Dozens of people asked questions at the Nashville town hall meeting on Ferguson, Mo. Among them was longtime Nashville resident Ed Kindall, who asked about the frequency of diversity training within the police department. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Laini Brown said she feels like the police treat her and her two children differently.

“Having a 23-year-old son, my son knows: Do not let your hand off that steering wheel. It’s ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no sir,’ ” Brown said. “These are lessons that I’ve had to teach him that I know my Caucasian counterparts have not had to teach their children to live with.”

There were cheers when Keith Goodwin, who recently started a group called Pacify Nashville, questioned the $4 million in military equipment that Nashville police department has received from the Pentagon, “including 365 assault rifles, two armored vehicles, one mine-resistant vehicle,” he said.

But police chief Steve Anderson said that what happened in Ferguson hasn’t happened here in his memory.

“What’s the statistics on unarmed black men being shot by the police? Frankly, I can’t remember the last time it occurred,” he said, “and I’ve been here 40 years.”

Anderson repeatedly encouraged residents to file complaints, request records and apply for jobs with the police department. When Ed Kindall told a story of being pulled over without probable cause, Anderson said reporting it to police officials would help stop that from happening in the future.

Bishop Joseph Walker said the next step is to gather community leaders from across the city and continue having conversations on a regular basis.

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