NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Makayla McCree has been part of the Nashville Community Oversight Board for about two years.
She decided to push to be nominated after the police brutality events of 2020. “I really leaned in and wanted to do more in my community, and I wanted to do more along the lines of criminal justice.”
But soon, that board could cease to exist.
Republican lawmakers passed a bill along near-party lines to abolish them in Tennessee.
“We’re always telling the public, ‘Trust the process’,” Rep. Harold Love Jr. (D-Nashville) said. “Here we have a situation where the process was completely taken away.”
A community oversight board is a type of police accountability group that gained popularity in light of the spotlight on police brutality in the last few years.
“Very frustrating, particularly in light of the fact that Nashvillians, overwhelmingly, petitioned and through referendum vote, established the community oversight board,” Love said.
There are only two community oversight boards in the state—one in Memphis and one in Nashville. This upcoming law affects only those.
“It would make it just uniform across the state,” Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) said.
Republicans argue the bill abolishes the boards but puts in a new type of advisory committee.
“Knoxville already has a similar advisory board they’ve had for several years that has worked very well in that community,” Hensley said.
Those advisory committees would be appointed by the mayor, not the community, which is the system currently in place.
Critics push that it will lead to a lack of accountability. But Hensley, a co-sponsor of the bill, said this doesn’t decrease accountability, it just makes it uniform.
“Our police officers are certainly out there defending us, but they’re humans too and do make mistakes, at times,” he said. “So, citizens need a place where they can file a complaint, and this sets up a procedure for this advisory committee to be there.”
But current board members say the new committees have virtually no power and only give referring capacity, not oversight. Essentially, they said it can refer complaints to law enforcement but do nothing about it, leading to law enforcement overseeing itself.
“We’re in a sad space in Tennessee where the government at the state level is preempting the voices of the people on the ground,” McCree said.
The law is set to take effect July 1.
Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) has yet to sign off on the legislation at the time of publishing.
News 2 reached out to Lee’s office and received the following statement: “As always, the governor will review final legislation and has 10 days to sign a bill once it reaches his desk.”
It reached his desk on May 9.
McCree pointed out that the bill will abolish community oversight boards but not their charters. She said there may be an avenue where oversight is still possible. But currently, there is no clear path forward.
Note: News 2’s Chris O’Brien reached out to the House Republican Caucus to request an interview with Rep. Elaine Davis (R-Knoxville) who sponsored the bill in the House. The office referred him to Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), the Senate sponsor. Pody is currently taking a week to celebrate his 50th anniversary.