For Nashville Mayor John Cooper, Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word
Updated: Aug 25
After a week of nightmarish discoveries about what many women in the Metro Nashville Police Department have been experiencing, I awoke this morning musing on a dream.
A dream that would allow us to emerge from a nightmare scenario into another reality wherein instead of women being objectified, intimidated and silenced --or even worse, encouraged to behave in ways that belittle themselves and others in order to fit in—that instead women are viewed and treated as valuable equals without pandering and/or ignoring behaviors unbecoming of a public servant. A dream where good men sworn to protect and serve are empowered to uphold their oath of office –within and without the department.
We cannot change the realities of former Police woman and Founding Director of Silent No Longer TN, Greta McClain, who was left with no choice but to unleash a 45 page report detailing the alleged abuse experienced by 25 Police women. After numerous attempts at reaching out to both the Mayor and the Police Chief to inform them women were/are being subjected to various forms of sexual misconduct—ranging from verbal abuse, harassment, coercion and assault- McClain reluctantly released the report to the media.
Nearly every woman of a certain age reading these words can (unfortunately) recall their own nightmare scenario as a young woman in a job where her 40 year old ish boss had a penchant for describing his sexual prowess (in detail) and would—without force—demand she engage him at the water cooler as he recounted what he liked to do with his tongue--and then pretend he was just joking.
This might seem like a harmless example to some--and if that is the case perhaps you might want to check with your wife, mother and/or daughter on what this kind of behavior encourages. Men (and women) who behave in this way are controlling the person on the receiving end. The power dynamic doesn’t allow them to respond appropriately—unless they are willing to lose their job or position.
What starts as innuendo and joking is a gateway behavior. When top level management doesn’t set a clear, unambiguous standard of behavior—in word and deed—wherein unwanted sexual attention, either verbal or physical, is not tolerated, the innuendo can easily morph into inappropriate touching and rape by a co-worker, as has happened at MNPD,.
All we can do is ask ourselves from this point on, what do we do now? How do we heal from this? How do we change?
I’ve written more letters to Mayor John Cooper and Metro City Council than I can bear to think about but since we are dreaming, I’ll briefly outline how we might move from blame and shame to healing.
1) Apology: It’s hard to admit being wrong—whether inadvertent or deliberate. But great leaders have always demonstrated the ability to admit when they have fallen short. Great leaders are humble and compassionate. And they admit when they’ve made an error. I ask:
--Mayor Cooper and the interim Chief to apologize to the 25 women (and more) in the MNPD for the deception and the unwillingness to take their claims seriously. Apologize for not behaving compassionately and extending to them the respect they deserve.
--To Silent No Longer TN Director, Greta McClain for ignoring her emails and calls and forcing her into a position wherein she had no choice but to take the women’s claims to the public.
--To all the women of Nashville who have been blindsided and horrified by the realization that if women in the MNPD aren’t treated with dignity and respect, then how can any of us expect differently.
--To all communities of color, ethnicity and immigrant status who are probably not shocked by this discovery but validated and vindicated by this public revelation.
--To the men of Nashville who want to encourage their daughters to dream of being a strong, powerful woman—even a police officer.
-- And to men on the Nashville Police force who are decent. Those men who do not exhibit the behaviors detailed in this report but who have been silenced by “the code.” Those men who are compassionate and committed to serving our community with dignity and who treat women and all communities of color, ethnicity and gender with the respect reserved for their loved ones.
2) Conduct an Independent Investigation for ALL of the 25 claims: We now know that the TBI is investigating one of the 25 claims. An independent investigation means outside law enforcement—not another law enforcement agency within the state with local law-enforcement ties to Nashville. It’s a little like assembling a jury for a criminal trial and selecting a family member of the accused to sit on the panel. These Independent investigations are vital for truth and healing.
3) Police Chief committed to Police Reform: As national experts in gender equity in policing and Police reform attest, it is nearly impossible to clean up a toxic environment within an organization from the inside. This does not mean the current interim Chief Drake is not a decent person, but it does mean that the chances of him being able to hold those accountable within the department is nearly impossible. They are co-workers, friends and shared years of living within the same toxic environment. Nashville needs a new Police Chief with a hazmat suit ready to clean up and set a new course.
4) Community Oversight Board: Two years ago, Nashville seemed to be leading the country in its recognition that we needed an independent review board with subpoena power to address any alleged violations within MNPD. The city overwhelmingly voted in favor of the resolution. Since that time the COB was consistently and deliberately disempowered by the last Police Chief. If the COB had been empowered and the Mayor and Police Department had immediately signed off on an MOU (memorandum of understanding), we might not be here today. The COB MUST have an enforceable MOA and provided a seat on the hiring committee for the next Chief of Police.
Since this is my dream, allow me to go one step further in the dreaming:
I know lots of men who are decent, loving and respectful—both inside and outside the MNPD. My dream is that men within and without the department reflect on some difficult and seldom asked questions:
--Why it is so hard for men to hold other men accountable?
--Why is it that a resounding chorus of men’s voices from North, East, West and South Nashville haven’t risen up in support of the 25 women alleging abuse in the MNPD?
--What is so difficult about expecting basic honesty and decency from other men?
Unfortunately, our particular predicament with the MNPD is not unique nor is it surprising to find the Department interwoven with systemic racism, which is why Police reform is crucial.
And much like systemic racism, when White people decide to end racism it will be over and when all men decide that sexual misconduct, degrading and abusive behavior toward women is intolerable, it will end.
Only then will we be able to give a full-throated ‘atta girl’ to all of our daughters, nieces and grand daughters who dream of being a police woman.
Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker/dreamer currently in production on a film with actor Bill Murray and Brian Doyle Murray and the author of White Privilege Pop Quiz. She Dreams of a better city for ALL of us.