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GUEST COLUMN: Open Letter to Nashville Mayor’s Policing Policy Commission Members From Michele Flynn

After receiving this note today from Michele Flynn, I decided to lend my blog to amplify another woman's voice who is amplifying All women's voices.

Open Letter to the Mayor’s Policing Policy Commission Members:

I am writing on the anniversary of women gaining the legal right to vote in the US, thanks to the women who radically challenged the status quo in order to claim a voice about public governance over their lives. I also write as a retired white woman who has lived and raised our children in our East Nashville home over the past 20 years. I have been employed by local and sate-wide non-profit organizations during my 35 years living in Tennessee and helped to establish a domestic violence and sexual assault organization in rural middle-Tennessee shortly after my arrival. But mostly I write as a personal survivor of rape and other emotional and physical invasions by men, a reality shared by almost every woman alive today.  

The 19- now 25 and counting- very brave, current and retired, female police officers and staff of the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) who came forward to document their sexual intimidation, assault, rape, groping and other bodily invasions by male officers are the John Lewis’ and Suffragettes of today. The incredibly supportive and professional staff of the Silent No Longer organization are to be heralded as the Ida B. Wells and Fanny Lou Hamers of our Nashville community. Like those before them, these women are challenging all of us to look into the face of the current policing system which has traumatized, belittled and attempted to disempower those we hired to serve and protect us.

The Silent No More report makes it clear that the excessive abuse of power by the male police officers was made possible by a leadership that condoned and covered it up and thereby enabled their male peers to disregard their oath to “get the backs” of their fellow female officers. While Anderson, the leader of these predators, has resigned the Mayor clearly displayed his consenting attitude toward the former Chief by calling him a “patriot” while referring to the remaining officers as “guardians.” These public statements support the practice of brushing aside the seriousness of abuses within MNPD against women by men who share the uniform.

Every male officer employed by the Department knew or should have known of these egregious actions by their peers and therefore bear the weight of accusation. The insidious impact of the prevailing culture within the MNPD created a shared shame that has been turned against the very women who have been victimized. There is no way anyone from within this corrupting environment should ever be considered for elevation to the position of new police Chief. And every current male officer should go through a rehiring process to ensure they have not been directly implicated in these accusations and also take a new oath to never condone or ignore such behavior in the future.

As a Member of the newly formed 40-person Commission established by the Mayor to study policing in our city should use as the moral basis and reference point for your work the statements contained in the Silent No More report regarding the sexist and racist practices within the police department. The toxic work environment within the MNPD created by the implicated male officers flowed out into the streets of Nashville to foster disrespect and disregard for the integrity of individual residents of our community, particularly and specifically those who are African American, people of color and new Americans. Such a weaponized and predatory culture does not lead us to trust in a force established to provide safety and secure the well-being of all of our people, within and outside the Department.

So, what can this newly constituted Commission do to repair the trauma heaped upon these 19-25 women, gain the confidence of women, African Americans, people of color and New Americans in Nashville and create a new model of public safety and accountability for our city that all people of conscience can stand behind? Below are a few suggestions:

1.) Endorse the hiring of a new Chief of Police from outside of Nashville and Tennessee that has a demonstrated history of leading a progressive policing department.

2.) Recommend that every male member of the current Metro Police Force go through a rehiring process- similar to that used by the Camden, NJ police department- which evaluates their previous employment history and excludes for employment any officer with prior allegations of racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant or culturally insensitive language or actions.

3.) Call for a true “independent investigation” by a national entity into each of the allegations of the female police officers to: ensure a thorough, fair and substantive review; identify who knew what and when within the MNPD and Metro Government in regards to the women’s statements; make recommendations for the termination of all co-conspirators engaged in the cover-up or inaction; and recommend compensation for the survivors of abuse and punishment for the perpetrators.

4.) Hire an out-of-state professional person with expertise in toxic police department cultures and their corrupting influence on police and policing to advise the Commission on developing and implementing good policing strategies and practices.

5.) Require the Metro Police Department to sign the still outstanding (!) Memorandum of Understanding with the Community Oversight Board COB) and their full cooperation with the COB.

6.) Reinforce the city’s commitment to the permanently chartered and publicly voted upon COB whose mandate is to oversee and investigate policing practices in Nashville including evaluation of police policies on use of force, training, recruitment, crime prevention, discipline and diversity. While this Commission has been asked by the Mayor to make recommendations regarding these areas, it is critical that the Commission remain clear that these are the responsibility of the COB to identify and address, as directed by the voting public.

7.) Require regular training sessions overseen by the staff of Silent No More regarding the MNPD’s newfound intolerance of sexual harassment, assault and intimidation so as to avoid the regrowth of a toxic working environment for current and future women employed by MNPD.

8.) Recommend the rewriting of the contract between Metro Government and the Fraternal Order of Police, and if they are not amenable then with another union, that affords them negotiation rights regarding pay and benefits for officers but does NOT empower them to be involved in the hiring and firing of officers in order to break the literal and figurative strangle-hold the FOP has on our city via the police department.

I have no vendetta against police. I grew up next door to a police chief. I owe a debt of gratitude to the police officers and prosecutor who successfully investigated, tried and convicted the man who raped me. And throughout my career I worked with a range of police, both good and bad. But, as the saying goes, this fish is rotten from the head down and needs to be cleaned out. I am using my voice in solidarity with Silent No More and the police women whose voices they are bringing to the forefront.

One final note- when the city of Nashville let these women down, every woman in Nashville was traumatized, marginalized and intimidated- but not silenced. As such, we are watching, expect to participate in the work of the Commission and hope that you do not end with a report that is merely shelved and thereby allows the toxic culture within the MNPD to continue.

Thank you for considering my comments and concerns.

Michele Flynn is an East Nashvillian and former Director of TNCED (Tennessee Network for Economic Development). She loves this city too much to remain silent.