After weeks of waiting, I finally heard back from my State Representative, Mary Pruitt, about my concerns over safety at Bicentennial Mall in the wake of a September rape. She said that she asked Park Commissioner Jim Fyke to call me with his suggestions on how the State was going to respond. She also said that she had been working on this issue with other government officials.
When Mr. Fyke called me he seemed to have no suggestions or ideas for doing anything differently, which to my surprise was a response consistent with his Tennessean editorial a few weeks ago. While he asked me what I thought his office should do, the phone call quickly degenerated into me throwing out ideas so that he could shoot them down. I don't know if the Commissioner shoots skeet, but I felt like a clay pigeon at every turn.
His main reason for rebuffing any suggestion that the State should do more to enhance overnight security (you'll remember that the park is unattended and unmonitored from 11:30 pm to 7:00 am) was that if they have to supply one park with preventative services or resources, then they have to do so for every park in the state.
I argued that his unwillingness to do anything to help prevent crime on the Mall puts neighbors like me in greater danger if, for instance, I happen to be driving through the park on my way home at 2:00 in the morning, break down there, and then cut across the Mall to reach a public phone on Rosa Parks Blvd. (formerly 8th Av). He maintained that if I was assaulted in the scenario it was the responsibility of the Metro Police to respond since my car was on the street. I had to repeat to him the part about short-cutting across the Mall to reach a pay phone.
When I pointed out that no changes mean that the Bicentennial Mall would be considered an unsafe no-man's land in the early morning hours, he snapped, "Our parks are safe!" I shot back that they weren't safe in the case of the woman who got raped, which itself gives me second thoughts about even risking driving through it after midnight. He responded that this was only 1 rape in the last 10 years. I replied, "So, what are you saying? That it was statistically insignificant?" he denied saying that the rape was insignificant.
I asked him how many people would have to be raped before the problem became significant enough to warrant a change in overnight security measures. He told me that as far as he knew I was the only one who had concerns about overnight security at Bicentennial Mall. He said that no one else was complaining to him about it, so others must be satisfied with park management. I wondered out loud whether he would be as hesitant to change if the rape victim had been a relative or friend of his.
One of the things that I tried to iterate to Mr. Fyke was that I did not believe that staffing rangers all night at the park was necessarily the answer. I suggested a phone kiosk or security camera as a couple of ideas that came immediately to my mind. (I had to explain to him what I meant by an "emergency kiosk," which seems odd to me given that he is the professional vested with the security of our public spaces). He took two shots at the kiosk. First, he asked rhetorically, "And what if the phone gets continually ripped out." The answer seemed pretty self-evident to me: "You replace it." I asked, "When a police officer gets killed in the line of duty, do we sit around and ask what we should do next? Don't we hire another police officer to replace the deceased one?" Geez. Is it any harder to repair vandalism?
Second, he asked, "So, are we supposed to put phones in big parks like Warner, too?" I suggested to him that hopefully he works with the neighbors around Warner to come up with the best solutions to fit their particular concerns in their unique context rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to security. If I would have had the presence of mind through my frustration I would have asked him rhetorically, "Does Warner have a fountain monument to Tennessee Rivers that kids can play in exactly like Bicentennial Mall does? Why not, if every service has to be the same in each park?"
The one other argument that I remember Mr. Fyke making was the Metro Parks don't so have the preventative services that I was asking of his department. I countered that I know first hand that there are a number of residents who live around Morgan Park who keep an eye on it and--through the Neighborhood Watches--act as an extension of the police. I told him that Bicentennial Mall had no established neighborhoods that came close to its edges, and thus, the state did not have the same security luxuries that the Metro Police do around many Metro Parks. I find it absolutely unconscionable that we have urban parks that are not being watched or secured in some way in the middle of the night.
Mr. Fyke practically ended the phone call by saying that he was keeping his word to Ms. Pruitt to call me and that he would reply to her that "we had talked" just as he promised her that we would. That came across to me as patronizing just as his Tennessean editorial had come off as cavalier. It was clear to me that "after 40 years working in parks" he has already made up his mind about the conditions of the parks in his charge and he was never seriously entertaining the notion of considering any other perspective that changed the status quo.
That exchange could have gone better. I will follow up with Rep. Pruitt and I continue to wait for Senator Thelma Harper's staff to respond after a letter and a couple of follow-up phone calls.
UPDATE: Commenter CMcT asks below that I post contact numbers so that folks can show the state that a few more people than myself are concerned about Bicentennial Mall safety.
Those numbers are: Jim Fyke (Parks Commissioner)--(615) 532-0109; State Senator Thelma Harper--(615) 741-2453; State Representative Mary Pruitt--(615) 741-3853
UPDATE: CatMac finds the new "open-closed" signs are unlit and post the erroneous hours. Your tax dollars at work.