Metro Nashville City Council’s Community Oversight Board (COB) might continue to behave more like a police oversight board. During a special interview meeting on Thursday, the council’s Committee on Rules, Confirmations, and Public Elections raised objections to only one nominee: Dr. Carol Swain. The committee also posed slanted questions to those nominees that had law enforcement relationships or affiliations, though they didn’t object to their qualifications.
Swain stated that her qualifications include her 18 years as a Vanderbilt political science and law professor, her degrees in law and criminal justice, her two appointments to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Tennessee Advisory Committee, her courses taught on civil rights issues, and her multiple testimonies before Congress on civil rights issues. Additionally, Swain noted that while she was at Princeton University, her two sons experienced racial profiling and her intervention led to an investigation that ended with police reforms not just in the town of Princeton but within the community. However, the committee voted that those weren’t proper qualifications.
During the interview, Swain declared that she could offer a diverse and equitable perspective:
[I] believe I offer a unique background and skill set in that I have the trust of many people from different communities. I’m very familiar with the police department because of having run for mayor, [and] I’m a part of the Black community. But I’m also a person that realizes there has to be trust between the police department and the COB as well as the Black community and other communities. And as I see the board today, there’s a sense there’s not very much viewpoint diversity, and often we find that there is a rush to judgment – that cases are tried in the media. And I believe because of my academic background knowledge of criminal justice issues that I would be able to at least have input when these situations seem to get out of hand by reminding people about the presumption of innocence, due process, and also with the community, to help to teach people that may not understand how law enforcement works so that the community knows what to expect as well as the law enforcement side, where you have people that would feel that they were going to get a fair evaluation from the board. And the board needs to be bipartisan: it shouldn’t be one token conservative. Hopefully, there would be people that would support the police and as well as the community, and I believe that I can bring diversity and understanding and a background that [is] unique.
Committee member Sandra Sepulveda (District 30), the only council member to pose a question of Swain, asked Swain whether her political beliefs would negatively impact her work with immigrants.
“Mrs. Swain – your views on immigration and multiculturalism have been concerning to many, including myself,” said Sepulveda. “Stating that multiculturalism doesn’t work, and that immigrants need to assimilate fully. On the COB, you will come in contact with many people from the immigrant community and undocumented community. So how can you reassure us that your bias will not affect a case that might involve someone from that community?”
“I would argue that my positions are not based on bias,” responded Swain. “My positions are based on having studied identity politics and multiculturalism, and my intimate knowledge of watching it play out. And so I do believe in the rule of law, but I also believe as a Christian that all people are created in the image of God, that we are to show compassion and love to all, and I have assisted in the immigrant community. And I find that a lot of people that talk a good game – have they ever gone to Tusculum [Elementary] and worked with immigrant children? Have they ever worked in immigrant homes? Have they ever done anything for immigrants? I don’t know about you all, but I know I have. And I’ve done it all my life. I care about people. I love people. I’m not looking for something extra to do that’s meaningless. I want to give to the community because I have been blessed, I have a unique skill set. And I think that I can see issues from more than one perspective.
“So you could assure us that if someone is undocumented, and a case involving someone that’s undocumented, comes before the COB, and if you are appointed to this board, then them being undocumented would not affect how you treated them?” asked Sepulveda.
“Of course not,” responded Swain. “I care about all people. And I’ve always cared about all people – and you may not understand my perspective, but maybe we would get to know each other and you would see, I’m not a boogeywoman, and that my views have merit, and they don’t come from any animus towards any group.”
Despite Swain’s responses, the committee initially submitted a divided 4-4 vote on the assessment of Swain’s qualifications to serve on the board. After consideration of the other nominees, the committee held a roll call vote to break the tie on Swain, ultimately ending with a 5-3 objection.
Those who objected to Swain’s qualifications during the roll call vote were: John Rutherford (District 31), Joy Styles (District 32), Antoinette Lee (District 33), Dave Rosenberg (District 35), and Sepulveda. Erin Evans (District 12), Courtney Johnson (District 26), and Russ Pulley (District 25) were the only members to agree that Swain would be qualified to serve on the board.
In a subsequent interview with The Tennessee Star, Swain expanded on her lifelong involvement within immigrant communities. On the academic front, she has two published editions of books addressing immigration debates; personally, she has invested her time and money for years to assist immigrant individuals, families, and communities.
“Through my church, I’ve been involved with immigrant families as far as furnishing their homes and volunteering for activities within the immigrant communities. I’ve contributed to [immigrant families’ needs] out of my own resources. I’ve had relationships and friends with immigrants,” she said. “So the whole idea that they would argue that I can’t be trusted to be for immigration [is false]. I have argued that our refuge programs don’t provide enough resources to get people on their feet [and] that we shouldn’t bring in more [immigrants] than we can observe.”
Swain added that the appointment to the board isn’t her main hope. Rather, she would like to see any of the nominees representing a background different from past COB members appointed.
“My desire would be to see any one of the FOP nominations be placed on the board. If elected, I’ll serve – but it’s something that I allowed my name to be put forward because of my belief in community service,” stated Swain. “Here’s the problem with Nashville – they seem very comfortable with the one party system. The people that Mayor [John] Cooper has appointed on everything that has been important – even though he campaigned among conservatives. Once he was elected, he totally turned his back, even at his inauguration, to those who supported him.”
According to Swain, the committee’s treatment of the nominees varied depending on that individual’s disposition toward law enforcement or even political ideology.
“I think with the oversight board, if you followed the council members’ reaction to various candidates they seem to lean toward those who talk about social justice and holding police accountable. They don’t seem as friendly to those with family members with law enforcement. If you’re going to have a presumption of innocence and cared about evidence and bridging gaps – it’s a losing position. I’m hoping they would do the right thing and appoint one or two, preferably two, that were nominated by the FOP because those are people that [the FOP] are confident in,” stated Swain. “I find that with the community oversight board, they seem to only be interested in one community – Nashville is composed of numerous communities. Our tax dollars are financing them: they should be as equally focused on preventing crime as they are about identifying police officers that need to be censured or punished.”
Swain shared that she’d been nominated to serve the board by the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). She speculated that this support, in part, may have risen from the FOP’s disappointment with the mayor’s lack of support for law enforcement throughout his tenure.
“That had to do with the fact that I cultivated many relationships with law enforcement by going to their roll calls and speaking [there]. I introduced myself and expressed a desire to support law enforcement,” said Swain. “I don’t believe the FOP has been very happy with Cooper, and that may have been a factor in asking me to serve. They know I would certainly be fair to law enforcement.”
When The Star inquired with Swain about her thoughts on the outcome of next weeks’ vote, she expressed a lack of confidence in the committee’s ability to appoint a true diversity of members representing the community. She predicted that the committee would select the nominees that explicitly mentioned social justice explicitly or emphasized the COB’s focus on police.
“They’re not a community oversight board – they should call themselves a police oversight board. They don’t seem to be focused on what they can do as a community oversight board to reduce crime and unpleasant interactions by educating people and working with the police,” she said. “Investigating police stations on how they’re monitoring their own officers – there’s no way that could be taking a lot of time. I imagine they have a lot of free time. They ought to be using their energies in working with the community itself to reduce crime and violence in Black communities.”
According to Swain, she will still be on the ballot for next week’s final vote on Tuesday.
Other members on the ballot are: Edward Baylor, Davette Blalock, Judge Joe Brown, Mary Byrd, Arnold Hayes, Brandy Hayes, Stephanie Kang, Makayla McCree, Sarah Paschal, Joseph Ravenell, Brenda Ross, and Mack Wynn.
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