If you needed a refresher on your high school civics classes, Nashville police Chief Steve Anderson has you covered. Anderson posted a message Friday on the city's government website intended for the Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County on how well the city has been handling the protests and demonstrations over Ferguson, Missouri.
In the post, Anderson included a letter from one citizen, along with his incredibly thoughtful response that included the simple but often overlooked fact: "The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people — for all people."
The original letter: A decidedly pro-cop citizen wrote to Anderson to express his "frustration and outrage at how the situation of these protesters is being handled in Nashville," saying that when protesters' marching shuts down the interstate, "Instead of at least threatening to arrest them, they were served coffee and hot chocolate," adding, "I don't feel that is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. It sends a message that they can do whatever they want and will be rewarded." The concerned citizen also wrote that he feels Nashville has become less safe and is worried about his family and his son.
The amazing response: While Anderson could have probably ignored the letter, he took the time to smartly and poignantly deconstruct the man's thoughts, item by item and address his concerns. Here are some highlights:
1. Anderson addresses the man's feeling that his opinions represent a "majority" and urges him to consider other points of view:
"It is only when we go outside that comfort zone and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don't agree with that we can make an informed judgment on any matter. We can still disagree and maintain our opinions, but we can now do so knowing that the issue has been given consideration from all four sides."
2. In offering an explanation as to what the man should tell his son about respecting police officers:
"First, it is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people — for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views."
3. And in offering other lessons the man might teach his son:
"Nashville, and all of America, will be even more diverse when your son becomes an adult. Certainly, tolerance, respect and consideration for the views of all persons would be valuable attributes for him to take into adulthood."
A powerful message: As thoughts of "us versus them" mentalities vis-à-vis law enforcement and protesters creep into the national dialogue, Anderson was right to remind this citizen of the role of the Nashville police force, or any police force for that matter. They are not some kind of goon squad that goes after troublemakers or people who try to incite change, especially when they do it peacefully, which, as Anderson pointed out, has been the case so far with all demonstrations in Nashville.
Read the full letter below:
While I certainly appreciate your offer to intercede on my behalf with our Mayor, you should know that the Mayor has not issued any order, directive or instruction on the matter with which you take issue. All decisions concerning the police department's reaction to the recent demonstrations have been made within the police department and approved by me. Therefore, any reasons or rationale supporting your proposal as what would be the best approach for all of Nashville, and not just a method of utilizing the police department to enforce a personal agenda, should be directed to me.
In that your thoughts deserve consideration, I will attempt to address some of the issues you have raised:
1. Has consideration been given as to whether the response of the police department "help or hurt the community."
It is our view that every decision made within the police department should be made with the community in mind. Obviously, there are some matters in which we have no discretion. On matters in which we do have discretion, careful consideration is given as to the best course of action, always with the welfare of the general public in mind.
That has been the consideration on this issue. Certainly, in comparing the outcome here in Nashville with what has occurred in some other cities, the results speak for themselves. I stand on the decisions that have been made.
2. "These actions are putting the department at disharmony from the majority of the citizens."
While I don't doubt that you sincerely believe that your thoughts represent the majority of citizens, I would ask you to consider the following before you chisel those thoughts in stone.
As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us. Unfortunately, there is even more of a human tendency to stay within our comfort zone by further narrowing those associations to those persons who share our thoughts and opinions. By doing this we can avoid giving consideration to thoughts and ideas different than our own. This would make us uncomfortable. By considering only the thoughts and ideas we are in agreement with, we stay in our comfort zone. Our own biases get reinforced and reflected back at us leaving no room for any opinion but our own. By doing this, we often convince ourselves that the majority of the world shares opinion and that anyone with another opinion is, obviously, wrong.
It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don't agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter. We can still disagree and maintain our opinions, but we can now do so knowing that the issue has been given consideration from all four sides. Or, if we truly give fair consideration to all points of view, we may need to swallow our pride and amend our original thoughts.
And, it is only by giving consideration to the thoughts of all persons, even those that disagree with us, that we can have an understanding as to what constitutes a majority.
3. "I just want myself and my family to feel that our city is safe, and right now we don't feel that way."
I have to admit, I am somewhat puzzled by this announcement. None of the demonstrators in this city have in any way exhibited any propensity for violence or indicated, even verbally, that they would harm anyone. I can understand how you may feel that your ideologies have been questioned but I am not aware of any occurrence that would give reason for someone to feel physically threatened.
4. "I have a son who I have raised to respect police officers and other authority figures, but if he comes to me today and asks "Why are the police allowing this?" I wouldn't have a good answer."
It is somewhat perplexing when children are injected into the conversation as an attempt to bolster a position or as an attempt to thwart the position of another. While this is not the type of conversation I ordinarily engage in, here are some thoughts you may find useful as you talk with your son.
First, it is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.
Later, it might be good to point out that the government needs to be, and is, somewhat flexible, especially in situations where there are minor violations of law. A government that had zero tolerance for even minor infractions would prove unworkable in short order.
Although this is unlikely, given your zero tolerance stance, suppose that, by accident or perhaps inattention, you found yourself going 40 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone and that you were stopped by a police officer. Then, after making assurances that licenses were in order and that there were no outstanding warrants, the officer asked you not to speed again and did not issue a citation, but merely sent you on your way.
As you have suggested, a question may come to you from the back seat, "How can I respect the police if they will not enforce the law?" In the event this does occur, here are some facts that might help you answer that question.
In the year 2013, our officers made over four hundred thousand vehicle stops, mostly for traffic violations. A citation was issued in only about one in six of those stops. Five of the six received warnings. This is the police exercising discretion for minor violations of the law. Few, if any, persons would argue that the police should have no discretion.
This is an explanation you might give your son. Take into account, however, that the innocence of children can produce the most profound and probing questions. They often see the world in a very clear and precise manner, their eyes unclouded by the biases life gives us. This could produce the next question. "If you believe that the police should enforce the law at all times, why didn't you insist that the officer write you a ticket?"
I don't have a suggestion as to how that should be answered.
I do know, however, that this is a very diverse city. Nashville, and all of America, will be even more diverse when your son becomes an adult. Certainly, tolerance, respect and consideration for the views of all persons would be valuable attributes for him to take into adulthood.
Mr. ______, thank you for taking the time to express your position on this matter. I assure that your thoughts will be given all due consideration. We will continue, however, to make decisions, on this and all matters, that take into account what is best for all of Nashville.
Chief of Police