Why Chief Anderson’s private apology isn’t enough

Last week, I published a story that exposed multiple Metro Nashville employees, including 6 police officers, 2 of them Sergeants, who took photos of a transgender citizen across the city, then shamed her online, talked about how they were glad she wasn’t in their area anymore, ridiculed her clothing, sexuality, gender identity, choice of bathroom, and became the very people we teach our children not to be, even taking a photo of her coming out of the restroom, trying to determine which she used. Our children look up to these officers, the rank and file look up to these Sergeants, yet these are the everyday inner thoughts, typed by their own fingers, exposed to the world, from the ones that promise protect and serve us – but instead are shaming and bullying, many of these events happening while getting paid by the city. We paid these officers to shame another human.

There has been no public statement to the city from Police Chief Steve Anderson. When asked about the city’s diversity training, the Mayor’s office simply refused to comment, despite having a key focus on diversity in his administration, and mandated city-wide diversity training. The Mayor’s press secretary told me via email, “sounds like you need to talk to HR”. Mayor David Briley missed a prime opportunity to own this mistake, apologize for it, and take credit for the fix – except he didn’t. There is no fix. He pretend it didn’t happen, probably hoping it will go away. And he’s may be right – not a single TV station or newspaper has covered the fact that 6 metro officers were placed under investigation for the incident, other than a WZTV blip late Friday night, which didn’t even make it to their website.

Steven Anderson has also not acknowledged the incident publicly, nor issued any formal apology to this citizen, or the public at large. However, on Friday, I learned that Chief Steve Anderson privately called Todd Roman, who is an owner of many Church St. businesses, such as Play Dance Bar, Tribe, & Suzy Wong’s House of Yum – all LGBT owned and operated businesses, but certainly not the only ones in the city. However, they are the ones with the highest tax revenues, and the largest LGBT attractions for tourists. Roman also assists with diversity training for new recruits for the police academy. That is the person that MNPD Chief chose to issue an apology to. Not the victim. Not the public. He did apologize to who is, likely, the only prominent gay business person he knew.

Chief Anderson, if the victim were catholic, would you apologize to the local catholic priest? If the victim were a lesbian, would you have chosen the owner of a lesbian bar to call and issue the apology? How about if the victim were black, would have called the NAACP? This choice to call someone who owns a few local gay businesses to make your apology to, is appalling and reprehensible.

For what it’s worth, Roman reports that he believes the Chief has “taken this very serious”, and says the Chief expressed how disappointed he was, and how the actions in no way represent the force as a whole. Roman says that he has direct access to the Chief on a regular basis, and he has always been responsive to his concerns.

The victim’s identity is known, and that is where the apology should have started, privately. Then a statement should have been issued to the community, acknowledging that the incident happened, and you have 6 MNPD police offers under OPA investigation, including 2 Sergeants. Yet there is no formal notice on this, just as there was no formal notice that you recently fired an Officer for using Mushrooms on the job to avoid drugs tests. You continue to hope issues such as this are not made public, and I have made it my personal mission to ensure that every one of them are made public, and that you are unable to continue to pretend they never happened.

Chief Anderson, where is your apology to Nashville?

The city has been here before, most often with the Fire Department, who also do their best to ignore these incidents, and are only slightly better at public disclosure when they happen. In May of 2016, Nashville Fire District Chief was ‘so disturbed’ by gay marriage ruling he could ‘barely even function’ at his job. He was subsequently suspended, then quietly returned to duty. Fireman Josh Brown shamed fat, gay, and transgender people online – and those complaints were ignored, and the spokesperson wrote it off as ‘old news’. In 2011, the department had a whole different set of homophobia complaints.

Each time events like this happen in the city of Nashville, and they are all too frequent, the result is the same. A  tightening of the ranks, a lock-down of all social media accounts, and everything returns to normal. Nothing changes. Our city doesn’t progress, because leadership doesn’t step up and accept responsibility. If there is any blame, it’s placed on the individuals, a few ‘bad apples’, which are quietly returned to duty with no real consequences. This even is different. People from many different departments took photos of this same transgender citizen, while out in public, doing their jobs, without knowing the others were doing so. This shows a pattern of behavior across the city, not just one or two bad apples. A systemic feeling that this is acceptable behavior. Why would the rank-and-file employees think twice, if multiple Sergeants are actively engaging in the same behavior. From the NFD to the MNPD, these problems have been addressed over and over, for at least a decade, and there’s been no reform, no change, no progress, other than on paper to check boxes.

Who will step up and take responsibility. Mayor Briley is pretending it never happened, and Police Chief Steve Anderson is privately apologizing to the richest LGBT business owner in the city, instead of the community or the actual victim.

Nashville, we MUST #DoBetter, it’s time.

– Jason Steen
Editor, Scoop: Nashville

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