Civilian review board benefits community, officers

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Sometimes the state legislature takes a swing at Nashville and hits Knoxville. The police in Nashville do not like having a civilian board providing them with oversight. The legislature has a bill that would remove subpoena power from civilian review boards, which hamstrings any effort to investigate complaints against officers.

Knoxville, at the behest of then-Mayor Victor Ashe, established a civilian review board 20 years ago. The Police Advisory & Review Committee has been extremely successful, and the Knoxville Police Department has a good relationship with the community. There is an assumption by some people that these boards are there to harass officers. But it is also the case that they can clear an officer’s record if the officer is wrongly accused.

I am surprised that a lot of conservative legislators are supporting the bill, even though Nashville voters approved establishing the board by referendum. On social media, some argue that we ought to just leave the police alone to do their jobs. My, my, the pendulum does swing.

The founders made it clear that we should have civilian control of the military. Sheriffs are elected and are held responsible by the voters for the conduct of deputies. Police are one department among many in a city administration, and crowded urban areas are more susceptible to crimes and daily contact among police officers and citizens.

I remember in the wake of the Waco massacre of the Branch Davidians and the killing of Randy Weaver’s wife and baby during the Ruby Ridge standoff the atmosphere was toxic. An NRA fundraising letter called federal agents “jack-booted thugs.” Second Amendment advocates have often made the point that gun rights are not just for hunters, but the Second Amendment prevents the rise of tyrannical government.

The rise of social media and camera phones has led to more coverage of officer-involved shootings. If there’s video it means massive news coverage and demonstrations, and it has led to the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests even invaded professional football stadiums with kneeling players. This has sparked a backlash. It seems that these days everybody has to take sides. No, you can deplore the shootings of young black men by police officers and you can deplore riots in places like Ferguson, Mo. You can also argue that a football game is not a place for political protest.

I grew up in Alabama, and when people start crying out for “law and order” I’ve heard that dog whistle before.

Can we not acknowledge that officers make mistakes, some shootings are justified, riots are wrong and it’s a shame that politics have permeated sports? Each case is different and needs to be judged on its own terms. And the best people to do the judging is a civilian review board that provides independent analysis and assesses blame where it belongs.

But in order to compel testimony or gather evidence a civilian review board needs subpoena power. A vote to hamstring civilian review sends a message that the police are free of independent oversight. It is especially disheartening if you vote against civilian review because you assume the officer is always right and anyone shot had it coming.

Prosecutors on parade: MSNBC has been running a herd of “former U.S. attorneys” through its studios in the past months, each speculating based on no evidence what special counsel Bob Mueller is finding in his probe of President Trump. They explain various procedures and who could get indicted and how it would work and whether there is precedent for this finding or that one. You should remember that young to middle-aged “former” U.S. attorneys appearing on these shows were likely appointed by President Obama and, as is customary, they were fired when Trump took office.

You could Google it: The justification for Sex Week on the University of Tennessee campus is that it provides information and education about sexual issues for students. Wouldn’t it be easier to just explain to the students how to use the internet? That’s in the unlikely event there is a student who doesn’t know how to Google. But that wouldn’t provide the annual Kabuki theater in which students offer outrageous topics to upset parents, who call legislators, and legislators who pretend to be outraged and everybody feeds off the publicity and the media cover it all.

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