Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poli Sci Prof Asks for Fair Treatment of Tennessean Reporter on Enclave

Dr. Sekou Franklin left the following comment in response to my post a Tennessean reporter's coverage of the question of racial profiling in North Nashville. I thought it remarkable enough to be brought to the surface in a post rather than relegated a link removed to the comments section:

I read your comments about Janell Ross and her piece in The Tennessean. I've been reading your blog for some time now and enjoy reading your comments. Although I must admit, I disagree with some of them. Also, I've learned a great deal from your insight. However, I think you need to be more fair in some of your analyses. Before moving further, I should say that I too live in North Nashville (11th and Buchanan), and I know and respect your neighborhood association leader (Freddie O'Connell). I've also done a considerable amount of work with progressive and social justice organizations in Nashville.

Though Ms. Ross is not perfect, her general observation about racial profiling is correct. Racial profiling and borderline unwarrented stops of many black residents -- stops that presumably would not happen in Green Hills -- are common occurences in North Nashville. (I have been unfairly stopped.)

The Ross piece was the first time the Nashville media exposed what seems like an established policy by the police department. I think Serpas believes minor traffic stops can prevent more serious crimes - a kind of "broken windows" approach applied to Nashville. That is, if he could increase the number of stops in high-crime areas -- stops based on minor violations (i.e. playing loud music, driving with a broken headlights, going 5 mph past the speed limit -- then it gives the police leverage to check driver licenses for warrents, past felonies, etc, and potentially make arrests. Accordingly, penalizing small violations in high-crime neighborhoods can prevent more serious crimes. I believe this is the police department's official policy. The research is, indeed, controversial and I have some problems with it. The challenge with this policy, if it is an official one, is that similar traffic/driving violations occur in middle-class and upper-middle class communities, but consequences appear to be much less. For example, if one goes to traffic court, an overwhelming number of the people seem to be African-American. It hasn't caused much public controversy because Serpas has been fairly saavy and sophisticated about courting established black leaders to back his policies (this is a common belief among progressive black activists). Moreover, there are some blacks, including working-class blacks, who are willing to support any policy -- even a policy that may lead to racial profiling -- as long as it can stop crime.

Further, a general concern among black activists is that some residents of Germantown, Salemtown, and Hope Gardens may receive different levels of treatment from the police because of the influx of whites (and some black professionals) who now leverage influence via the neighborhood associations. In other words, it's possible that the police department treats white residents (and even some black middle class residents) in North Nashville communities. I'm sure this requires some research, but a similar debate took place in East Nashville three years ago.

As I stated earlier, Ms. Ross is not perfect. I also know for a fact that her editors often scale back some of her articles, and as a result, the context tends to be sacrificed. Some of her original pieces (before they are chopped up by her editors), I've heard, have more context and nuisance. Based on my experiences with her, most of her articles about race are informed by previous conversations with people, often activists or residents directly affected by the problem. These individuals often approach her for pieces, which then must be approved by her editors. Her Salemtown article, most likely, did not come out of thin air. She probably was approached by someone -- maybe even someone in the Salemtown community -- to write the piece. Also, in terms of her article, the NAACP organized the town hall, which was a spin-off of CNN's Black in America meeting. They set the agenda, invited multiple speakers, etc. Her story was not based on an opinion, but reported the content of the town hall.


Sekou Franklin

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