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Tennessee Republicans try to strip Nashville police oversight board of its subpoena power

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Tennessee Republicans try to strip Nashville police oversight board of its subpoena power

  • Iowa moves toward expanding voting rights. But it may require a ‘modern-day poll tax’

  • The Appeal Podcast: A pattern of jail deaths in western New York—and across the country.

  • Supreme Court allows Alabama to deny request for imam’s presence at execution

  • Massachusetts might restore voting rights, but organizers are not waiting

  • 18-year-old faces up to 15 years in prison and registration as a sex offender

In the Spotlight

Tennessee Republicans try to strip Nashville police oversight board of its subpoena power

Last November, voters in Nashville, Tennessee, overwhelmingly approved a referendum to create a civilian police oversight board. Black community leaders had been pushing for the board for decades, and that push accelerated in February 2017 after a white police officer shot and killed Jocques Clemmons, an unarmed Black man, during a traffic stop at a public housing complex. [Joey Garrison / The Tennessean] The officer was not criminally charged and remains on the force. Those in favor of community oversight of the police launched a petition drive. While the drive was underway, another white police officer shot and killed another unarmed Black man, Daniel Hambrick, during another traffic stop. [Steven Hale / Nashville Scene] Last October, in the weeks before the election, The Appeal: Political Report looked at the campaign for the community oversight board.

Now, the Republican-dominated state legislature may strip the board of some of its most important provisions. Republican leaders announced on Monday that they had introduced House Bill 658, legislation that is backed by the governor and would take away the board’s power to issue subpoenas and compel witness testimony. Under the city charter that was amended to create the oversight board, the board possesses “all powers, including the power to compel,” given to other Nashville government agencies, boards, and entities. HB 658 also takes aim at the requirement that four of the 11 members of the board must be from “economically distressed neighborhoods” by introducing a ban on consideration of “demographics.”  [Natalie Allison / The Tennessean]

The legislation would have statewide effect, stripping the subpoena power from other oversight boards, including the Knoxville civilian oversight committee, which has had that power for 20 years. The Republican sponsor of the bill insisted that it was not introduced in response to the creation of Nashville’s board but that claim has been met with deep skepticism. [Natalie Allison / The Tennessean]

“Over the last several years, the new favorite sport around here is to kick Nashville around, and I think that’s really no way to govern the state,” Jeff Yarbro, the Senate Minority Leader who is from Nashville, told the Tennessean. The Republican-controlled legislature has in recent years, The Tennessean reports, “sought to intervene in Nashville’s decision-making on policies related to LGBTQ nondiscrimination, affordable housing, short-term rentals, minimum wage and other issues.” [Natalie Allison / The Tennessean]

The Daily Appeal spoke with Theeda Murphy of Community Oversight Now, the campaign responsible for the petition drive that resulted in the referendum last year. Murphy said that the response from the legislature was not surprising, given the Republican “history of pre-empting anything that Nashville does that’s too progressive.” She noted the “hypocrisy” of Republican proponents of small government seeking to reverse local action. Nashville’s oversight board was created, she said, after “a referendum that had overwhelming public support in an election that had overwhelming turnout. If that is not a mandate then I don’t know what one is.”

The local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police had, Murphy said, been fervently fighting the creation of the oversight board. In the run-up to the referendum, the group outspent advocates for the board by a 30-1 margin according to The Tennessean. Since the election, the chapter has sued to block the board. [Joey Garrison / Tennessean]

On Tuesday, Murphy said, “we announced our answer” to HB 658. Community Oversight Now launched a campaign titled, “Don’t Play Where You’re Not Welcome,” calling on high school athletes to boycott Tennessee colleges and universities. The idea, Murphy said, is to “target top-tier high school athletes that are being recruited to Tennessee colleges to play sports and encourage them to go elsewhere. Because obviously they’re not wanted here.” [Pride Newsdesk / Nashville Pride]

Community Oversight Now describes “the recruitment of top-ranked athletes” as “the bread and butter of Tennessee’s sports economy.” The University of Tennessee football team brings in significant profits, the group notes, and its men’s basketball team is ranked #1 in the country. The campaign argues that HB 658 “discriminates against African-Americans, other racial minorities, and low-income rural communities that envision healthy police-community relations as a public safety issue.” It will make “forceful and energetic appeals directly to the athletes, their parents and grandparents, their pastors and church elders, their high school athletic directors, and their coaches.”

At the press conference on Tuesday, Arnold Hayes of Community Oversight Now said, “They may have on their jersey that says Tennessee. It may say Vanderbilt, but once they get out of that jersey they are just as much as anyone in danger of police misconduct.” [Caitlyn Shelton and Harriet Wallace / Fox 17]

Murphy told the Daily Appeal that although there has been no official response to the campaign’s demands, Community Oversight Now is starting to hear responses from officials who “are not real happy about it.” She continued: “We’re having to explain the connection between college sports and police violence. We’re having to explain why we have exempted historically Black colleges and universities. We’re having to explain all of that.”

Stories From The Appeal


Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds [Joshua Lott/Getty Images]

Iowa Moves Toward Expanding Voting Rights. But It May Require a ‘Modern-Day Poll Tax.’ Lawmakers are debating whether to let people with felony convictions vote—but there could be a costly catch. [Kira Lerner]

The Appeal Podcast: A Pattern of Jail Deaths in Western New York—and Across the Country. Adam talks with Appeal contributor Raina Lipsitz about what’s happening in Erie County and what it tells us about the broader problem of people dying in jail. [Adam H. Johnson]

Stories From Around the Country

Supreme Court allows Alabama to deny request for imam’s presence at execution: Domineque Ray was put to death at 10:20 p.m. Thursday after the Supreme Court allowed his execution despite Ray’s arguments that, as a Muslim, he should be allowed to have an imam at his side. Prison officials said that although a Christian chaplain could be present, because he was “a member of the execution team” and was “familiar with the technicalities of the execution protocol,” allowing an imam into the chamber would present safety concerns. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed the execution, with a judge writing that “it looks substantially likely to us that Alabama has run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” The Supreme Court’s decision came in response to an emergency application from lawyers for the state of Alabama asking the court to vacate the stay. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the four dissenters, said, “Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the state puts him to death. The 11th Circuit wanted to hear that claim in full … this court short-circuits that ordinary process—and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument—just so the state can meet its preferred execution date.” [Adam Liptak / New York Times] See also Ohio’s new governor, Mike DeWine, granted a warrant of reprieve because of judicial concerns about the drugs to be used in the execution of Warren Hennes, which was scheduled for next week. The Intercept reports that the governor “ordered a review of the state’s options and an examination of ‘possible alternative drugs.’”

Massachusetts might restore voting rights, but organizers are not waiting: Massachusetts introduced felony disenfranchisement into its state constitution in 2000 when it took away the right to vote from people who are incarcerated. But there are now efforts to undo that restriction. State Senator Adam Hinds has introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish felony disenfranchisement, and The Appeal: Political Report found that at least one senator who voted to disenfranchise two decades ago now supports restoring voting rights. The organization Emancipation Initiative supports the measure, but it’s also not waiting for the amendment to pass to amplify the voices of incarcerated individuals. Last year, the group partnered with Boston DSA, a chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, to run #DonateYourVote, a project in which free people are paired with incarcerated people and commit to voting according to their disenfranchised partner’s preferences. Derrick Washington, an incarcerated person who founded the Emancipation Initiative in 2012, tells the Political Report that disenfranchisement turns individuals into a “pariah class.” “I can’t impact the people who have designed the environments I’m detained in or are designing the policies that impact me,” he said. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal:Political Report]

18-year-old facing up to 15 years in prison and registration as a sex offender: A Florida teenager has been charged with a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender for continuing his relationship with his 15-year-old girlfriend after he turned 18 in December. The girl’s parents reported the relationship to the “school resources deputy” at the 18-year-old’s high school. A defense attorney told the Miami Herald that one way the 18-year-old could avoid lifetime registration as a sex offender is if the state attorney’s office were to offer him a deal to plead guilty to felony battery, a third-degree felony. Florida’s 2017 “Romeo and Juliet” law also allows for someone convicted of the second-degree felony to appeal the registration requirement. It was passed to “address concerns about high school age youth being labeled as sexual offenders or sexual predators as a result of participating in a consensual sexual relationship.” [David Goodhue / Miami Herald]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

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