Liberate Nashville is a network of students, organizers, activists, and persons of good will building power against systemic racism and economic injustice in the movement for collective liberation in Nashville and beyond. Our collective conscience has been sparked and re-sparked by the recent police killings of black men, women, and children in Ferguson, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Nashville, and so many other cities. We intimately know the deeply entrenched racial injustices that these murders unveil—racial injustices that pervade not only our education, economic, and criminal justice systems, but also the housing and job markets in the United States. The non-indictments of the police officers that killed Mike Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island fanned the flames that have been burning within us for years.
Since Mike Brown’s death on August 9th, mass mobilizations and direct actions have swept across the country, igniting the conscience and will of countless communities who are claiming that Black Lives Matter and demanding concrete change. Locally, we have seen one of the largest mobilizations of students, clergy, and other concerned Nashvillians in decades. Since November 25th, we have used our bodies to decry such injustice on the streets and in shopping centers across our city. What follows is our collective account of why we shut it down and what we want.
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We are here to tell our own story. On Friday, December 12th, hundreds of students, clergy, and concerned Nashvillians marched through the city after a vigil for Eric Garner and all victims of police brutality. With tears in our eyes and the names of the slain on our lips, we stood together to declare that Black Lives Matter. We marched together and held die-ins on the cold asphalt, shutting down roads, intersections, and, with the help of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the interstate. The significance of shutting down these thoroughfares is, in part, to disrupt the status quo, symbolizing the massive disruption that people of color face every day when they fear for their lives and the lives and futures of their children. The significance also extends beyond merely disrupting commutes to disrupting commerce and, in the process, illuminating and interrupting the systems that perpetuate both the unequal distribution of this commerce and, subsequently, the mass incarceration, criminalization and killing of people of color and the poor.
Therefore, when the police show up in droves in response to our protests, it is not merely to protect citizens and the flow of traffic; it is also to protect the flow of commerce upon which our rapidly gentrifying “it city” depends. Mayor Dean and Metro Council recently approved funding for an $18 million dollar pedestrian bridge connecting one hub of commerce (the Gulch) to another (SoBro) while income inequality soars, countless people are dying from the lack of housing and health care, and people of color and the poor continue to be disproportionately targeted by the police. Yes, in Nashville, the tax-base of our city is growing daily, but the rising tide is not lifting all boats—our people don’t have boats and are drowning in the wake while others are cruising by on yachts.
So on December 12th, we targeted and shut down these centers of commerce—the convention center, SoBro, the Gulch, and Broadway—in order to shed light on the web of realities that exist beneath the killing of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many others. Our moral outrage cannot be understated—the state of our lives has been morally disrupted.
Southern policing has its roots in plantation owners who hired poor whites to keep their property (land and humans) under control by patrolling for runaway slaves. While policing has certainly evolved, it is our view that it ultimately serves the same purpose today: to keep the property of the establishment under control and to protect the handful of people, development firms and corporations that are ravaging and gentrifying our neighborhoods for the sake of profit and progress while countless low-income communities are being displaced and further entrenched in cycles of poverty.
Over the last 20 years, the federal government has defunded programs for affordable housing, quality education, physical and mental health care, substance abuse, and food security but increased funding for jails and prisons and passed military equipment to local police forces including over $321 million worth of armored vehicles, assault rifles, riot gear, helicopters and other equipment to Tennessee since 1993. Like so many other cities, Nashville has divested its resources from black, brown, and poor communities with one hand while punishing the same communities through disproportionate punitive policing and incarceration with the other.
Many on the police force who joined because they want to keep people safe are living paycheck to paycheck and recognize these dynamics, as well. But when we ask why so few of them speak up in public forums about the injustice and inequality they see, they say they’re afraid of losing their jobs. Ultimately, they work for their bosses—their supervisors, the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, and the deep, deep pockets of those who stand to benefit most from the “it city” of the future—not the people.
So with our marching feet and direct actions, we echo the words of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Until we see concrete, systemic changes in our city’s policing, in our housing policies, in our economic and criminal “justice” systems, we will not rest. We will continue to organize ourselves, shut down the deadly flow of the status quo and drive a spoke into the wheel that crushes so many of us. Why? Because our local and national histories have taught us that sitting at the table with the establishment and waiting patiently for crumbs has failed to produce the broader changes we seek.
Our demands are threefold: 1) end police discrimination in Nashville; 2) decrease funding for the “prison industrial complex” and the militarization of the police force and reinvest that funding back into the community—into affordable housing, quality education, physical and mental health care, substance abuse programs, and food security; and 3) prioritize economic equity and empowerment for people of color. We are currently working with grassroots groups and community members to further concretize these demands and move them forward.
The triple evils of racism, militarism, and poverty that Martin Luther King, Jr. named before his assassination are the same evils we organize against today. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.’s words from a jail cell in Birmingham, woe to all those in Nashville who are more devoted to “order” than justice, who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who sympathize with our anger but not our direct action and paternalistically seek to set the timetable for our liberation and wait for a “more convenient season.” We will not wait. We will not stop.
Deacon Kenneth Caine
Dr. Sekou Franklin
Ashirah S. Freeman
Taneisha R. Gillyard
Dominique D. Gonzales
Sara E. Green
Micky ScottBey Jones
Teresa Kim Pecinovsky
Rev. Jeannie Malena Alexander
Rev. Lindsey Krinks