Nolensville Police Department race and policing

As protests against police brutality and racial injustice have gripped the nation for nearly two months, law enforcement agencies across the county have had to assess their policies and perceptions.

The Nolensville Police Department is doing its part in that equation by meeting with community members of color to foster communication, understanding and progress.

The recent protests largely stem from the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn. Since then, protesters have taken to streets, plazas, parks and government buildings across the nation.

Middle Tennessee has seen its share of demonstrations, including the month-long occupation of a portion of the state capitol grounds.

Williamson County has also seen outpourings of support in communities like BrentwoodSpring HillFranklin and Nolensville.

In response to this, some law enforcement agencies nationwide are having internal conversations on the role of police and their policies. Others are taking an outward approach, including Nolensville Police Chief Roddy Parker.

He began publicly and privately addressing the concerns and needs of people of color in the small-but-growing town of around 10,000 residents.

For Parker, the conversations began shortly after the May 30 protests in Nashville devolved into a riot that saw police cars and several buildings vandalized, including the Metro Nashville Courthouse.

May 30 Nashville Protests

Protestors march on Broadway in Downtown Nashville on May 30.

Parker said that he began to receive messages asking about what his department does in terms of training to ensure that incidents such as the one that led to Floyd’s death don’t happen in Nolensville. 

“I took advantage [of that] to say, 'Hey, I’m willing to come talk to you if you’re willing to listen to me,'” Parker said. 

This initial interaction led to a series of meetings with Black residents who offered their perspectives, concerns and experiences to the chief in an effort to find common ground and understanding in the midst of the growing national crisis.

One of those residents is Geoffrey Mason, who said in a phone call that the national unrest sparked the connection and conversation with Parker and has led to an important dialogue. 

“We wanted to obtain a better understanding of some of the training, such as sensitivity training or diversity training, that the Nolensville Police Department go through, and use of force training," Mason said.

"The chief said that they actually do go through de-escalation training, so that was good to hear." 

Part of the discussion, Mason said, was communicating how they as Black men feel and what they’ve experienced in general in terms of racial profiling or other negative occurrences.

“When you have those bad experiences, you have a scar, and it’s something that’s always in the back of your head,” Mason said. “So now, as Black men, when we see the police, you’re kind of hesitant and just always looking in the rearview mirror and tensing up because of experiences that we’ve had personally or someone that we may have know who has had some type of negative experience with the police.”

Mason said that he's only had positive interactions with NPD, something that he credited to Parker's leadership as well as the diversity of the community that has widened as the population has grown.

NolensvilleMarchforEquality-14.jpg

Ebenezer United Methodist Church Pastor John D. Alexander holds the hand of 12-year-old Allyson Wright, who led a portion of the march, as they prayed together on stage during the Nolensville March for Equality.

Another resident, Pete McAdams, said in a phone call that, after watching the video of the killing of George Floyd, he asked, "What can I do?"

"I can't change racism nationally, that's a pretty big elephant to eat, but I can reach out to our local law enforcement and try to make sure that what happened on the streets of Minnesota don't happen here," McAdams said.

McAdams said that part of these conversations is forming a relationship with local law enforcement and gaining that human connection and understanding, as well as discussions about policy.

"One story that stuck out in my mind that Chief Parker said is that there's times where he's just riding along and sees some white kids, and he'll stop and pull over and, 'Hey guys, how are you doing, where do you go to school,' just kind of connect with them, and then he sees some Black kids, maybe that same day, wants to pull over, but his fear is that they're fearful of him," McAdams said.

"And, if he pulls over, maybe they think they're in trouble and they may run, and so a lot of times, he just drives by. And that's the epitome of what we're trying to change -- not to be fearful of law enforcement and more importantly for law enforcement to not be fearful of people who don't look like them."

Soon after Parker’s conversations with citizens began, Nolensville saw hundreds of community members and activists take part in the Nolensville March for Equality.

These important conversations on policing and race will continue on Wednesday at 6 p.m. when county law enforcement and government officials participate in a Facebook Live panel discussion hosted by the Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition.

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