“In Nashville, if you want to come to a public forum and express your thoughts, even if they’re against the government, you’re going to get your First Amendment protection, and you’re going to be treated fairly by the police officers involved. That’s what we do here in Nashville,” said Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson in comments to WKRN-TV 2, reflecting on his department’s response to Ferguson protests last Tuesday.
Chief Steve Anderson, who made news in October when his department refused to cooperate with Secret Service agents who asked Nashville police to falsify a warrant so that they could search the home of an Obama critic, is making headlines again for his unique approach to dealing with protesters angry about a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson, MO Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown. Rather than confronting protesters with militarized hardware, tear gas, and rubber bullets, Nashville police treated the protest more like a parade or community event, essentially providing security while protesters made their statement.
Incidentally, the protests, though they were emotionally-charged and attended by 450 people, did not descend into the type of violence, rioting, and looting that has been seen in other cities. Said Chief Anderson, “We had people that took to the streets, took to the forums to express their thoughts, their ideas, and they were extremely well-behaved. We had no incidents of any vandalism of any violence of any type. What I noted [is] that people were even picking up the trash that they had left behind at the scene.”
On Monday, prior to the announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, Police Chief Steve Anderson and newly-elected District Attorney Glenn Funk, who won his election in a campaign that promised a focus on hardened criminals rather than good kids who make mistakes with drugs, scrambled to meet with clergy leaders in the African-American community, listening to concerns and creating relationships with those who would become leaders in the following day’s protest.
Chief Anderson’s police force met protesters with hot chocolate and bottled water, rather than tear gas, marched alongside them, and ran the type of security that one might expect in a civic parade, communicating on an ongoing basis with protest leaders. At one point, protesters charged up an on-ramp and took over Interstate 24 over the objections of Nashville police. Chief Anderson made a controversial real-time decision, opting not to arrest protesters, and ordered officers to shut down I-24 temporarily, allowing demonstrators to make their statement by lying down on the roadway while drivers waited. Consequently, protesters were cleared off the roadway within twenty to twenty-five minutes. Anderson acknowledged that the incident did inconvenience Nashville drivers, but no more so than a car accident or other situation in which police sometimes block the roadway to protect citizens’ safety.
“We could have moved in and made arrests, but to do that you have to do that one by one in a very careful manner… We would have been there two to three hours,” said Chief Anderson, explaining his decision not to arrest protesters for taking over I-24 in comments to WKRN-TV 2. “Last night’s event went very well and I hope that all of Nashville is proud of not only the law enforcement response, but the response of the citizens involved and that we have set an example for the nation.”
Chief Anderson’s comments about Nashville’s Ferguson protests can be seen in the above-embedded video player, provided by Nashville News.