A community activist group is asking high school student-athletes not to play for Tennessee’s colleges and universities.
“Community Oversight Now”, which came up with the guidelines for Nashville’s community oversight board, launched the campaign Tuesday called “Don’t Play Where You’re Not Welcome.”
The group says the campaign is in response to a proposed state bill that would put parameters on civilian oversight boards across Tennessee. If it passes, the bill would reverse powers of the oversight board that Nashville voters approved in November.
Nashville’s Community Oversight Board will investigate complaints made against Metro Police officers. The eleven members have been chosen and it is in the process of hiring a team of staff.
“Community Oversight Now” helped draft the legislation governing the board, which says that four members of the board must live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and the board has subpoena powers.
The state bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Michael Curcio, a Republican from Dickson County, would strip all oversight boards of subpoena power and would not allow a city to say that board members can only be from certain areas.
“Republicans were very supportive of state’s rights and things being handled at the local level and we’re trying to handle this at the local level but they’re overriding it,” said Arnold Hayes, who is with Community Oversight Now.
Hayes says the group is targeting college sports because it is a multi-million-dollar industry that benefits local and the state’s economies.
“The recruitment of top-ranked athletes is the bread and butter of Tennessee’s sports economy,” a press release sent by Community Oversight Now said. “The ‘Don’t Play Where You’re Not Welcome Campaign’ will make energetic and forceful appeals directly to the athletes, their parents and grandparents, their pastors and church elders, their high school athletic directors and their coaches.”
Hayes says he and other members of the group plan to reach out to the top 300 football players and 100 basketball players in high school sports across the country and tell them to look at colleges outside of Tennessee.
“This is not something we desire to do but the people have spoken so this is a way to actually take this to the people and letting them have a voice in this,” Hayes told News 2.
Hayes points out that many college athletes are African-American.
“Once they get out of that jersey they’re just as much as anyone in danger of police misconduct,” Hayes said.
Rep. Curcio said the bill is not meant to target Nashville specifically. He said he looked at best practices spelled out by the National Institute of Justice.
“Community oversight boards have been in existence since the 1950’s yet nowhere in our Tennessee code does it speak to those boards at all,” he told News 2. “So, we really wanted to put in a basic definition of what a community board oversight board is and then we outlined some parameters that were a reflection of those best practices as observed.”
Hayes said the bill discriminates against people of color and Nashville.
“Republicans don’t want the community oversight board because it has some teeth and can be effective,” he told News 2. “It gets down to discrimination because this is something that’s primarily good for people of color.”
Rep. Curcio balked at the idea.
“I am against racial discrimination of any kind,” Curcio said. “To anybody who says that we’re doing anything in direct response or we’re overturning what Nashville voters did, we’re not doing that at all so the board still remains intact. I would think that anybody who voted for this in Nashville would want to make sure that their board functions well and it meets those best practices as defined across the country.”
Community Oversight Now held a press conferencing outlining their plans Tuesday afternoon. It has not said how it plans to reach out to the various athletes.
The group said that community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities are exempt from the campaign blitz because they have historically been supportive of police accountability measures.