The letter below was written in response to Metro Nashville At-Large Councilman Jerry Maynard’s email to Justice For Jefferson on May 12, 2015.
Dear Councilman Maynard:
I read your response email to the Justice for Jefferson Street group and it broke my heart on so many levels. I was disgusted, honestly, and felt like your tone was arrogant, degrading, defensive and highly insensitive. Think what you may, Councilman Maynard, but many of us voted for you, and the way you address constituents in this email is completely unprofessional.
Your response, in my humble opinion, is extremely binary—you egregiously cast blame on your own constituents who are expressing their disdain for a $25 million dollar “urban renewal” project that, according to the stages of gentrification as identified by research, will ultimately end in the removal of black business owners and residents from our beloved historic Jefferson Street.
Placing blame (‘Look what I have done, you useless constituents!’) promotes a culture of victimization—we are not victims,we are empowered voters. We are not in competition with you, you represent us and, though you made it so with the way you chose to respond, it really just wasn’t (and isn’t) about you. This is not the time to beat your chest or tell us how your truck is bigger than ours.
What we need is reconciliation, not retaliation. Understanding, not finger pointing.
First,my response to your email:
1. I have two questions for you. If Justice for Jefferson Street does not represent your community, what community do you represent? You, sir, are our councilman at-large—we areas much a part of your community as those who agree with your position on this matter. To exclude a group because they do not agree with you is both discriminatory and undemocratic.
My next question is: How do you really know what “your community” represents in relation to this issue? You never asked. I personally have never received a call from you, a survey monkey or an invitation to a forum.
2. Just because you were not invited to the backdoor meetings does not mean there were no backdoor meetings. This was a top-down decision imposed on residents and business owners in the community whether they agreed or not.
3. Regardless of what we each think the issue is, we clearly both agree that there is, in fact, an issue. So, councilman, will you just vote yes without taking the time to do your job of listening to and engaging the citizens who will be mostly affected?
4. Imposing the headquarters on a community in the name of building “relationships” between citizens and police without ever talking with the citizens is definitely a strong arm and, when there is so much resistance to an idea, it can do nothing but damage the little trust we have (if any at all) in our city government or in this justice system that is experientially and statistically known to exploit and oppress blacks.
The decision to place the police headquarters on our street was nothing less than another example of our choke-hold domination culture that does whatever it will to black people and black communities, to poor people and poor communities—this is also known as white supremacy.
5. Do you really believe that black Nashville,the potential and actual Jefferson Street business owners, is solely the agent of its own suffering? Do you really think WE are the cause of the black disinvestment to which you refer? You imply that the blacks of historic Jefferson Street have not been and are not currently victims of systemic racialized exploitation.
Your politics of blame is rather disengaging and over-simplistic when we know that Jefferson Street was an economically viable area with Fisk and its Jubilee Singers, restaurants,an ice cream shop, the first black fire hall in the country, Brown’s Hotel and the many venues that attracted the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. How in the world do you sleep at night,blaming the victims for their ultimate decline?
Let’s keep it real and talk about what really destroyed Jefferson Street. Surely you already know; I will keep this brief.
It has been a long time government strategy to destroy black businesses and communities by demolishing them, using eminent domain to reclaim private property for government initiated development projects. Our once proud and vibrant communities, like North Nashville and even Edgehill have been intentionally replaced by freeways, expressways and public housing units.
So what happened to Jefferson Street? The initial disinvestment and abandonment was spurred by the environmental injustice of Interstate 40 which blocked business traffic by cutting through the street. By the time businesses and homes were torn down and roads were blocked off for construction, over 120 businesses on Jefferson Street were forced to close and blacks were displaced from the cultural nexus of Jefferson Street.
6. The real injustice,councilman, is you asserting that “our people” refused to develop the land for fifty years. The real injustice is what we have seen happen in neighborhoods like Edgehill. The Edgehill community petitioned Metro to create local jobs, improve public transportation and help secure a grocery store that would provide healthy food options. Metro insisted there was no available space or funding. However, instead of investing in Edgehill and thus eliminating a job, transportation and food desert, Metro found a way to over-police the community and criminalize its citizens by securing both space and funds for a brand new police precinct.
To further extrapolate we can also refer to how citizens and businesses were treated around the building of the new convention center. Metro used eminent domain and even broke promises it made to the Music Hall of Fame. These are just two examples. Experience has taught many of us to be wary of our mayor’s intentions and decisions.
So you vote for the headquarters to be built on Jefferson Street, then what? You all don’t know because you don’t have a plan.
I truly appreciate the council’s efforts to beautify Jefferson Street. I have no earthly idea what you all spent that $890,000 beautification grant on and would be interested to know if it was wasted or used wisely. $25,000 for the bridge is nice too, but frankly, what you’ve done is clearly not enough for the Jefferson Street community or it would be viable again.
My recommendation, Councilman Maynard, is that we move from a politics of blame to one of accountability—this is the philosophy of Restorative justice. Let us look at accountability and see where our own responsibility lies. We then eliminate the victim and the offender, the savior and the distressed and create a situation where the community is not victimized, but empowered.
Who is initially accountable for Jefferson Street’s demise? Our government. And though none of you council members were in office in the 60’s when Interstate 40 was built and the initial harm was caused,you current members are accountable to us citizens for the revitalization of Jefferson Street. “Our people,” have held on to their homes and businesses in the Jefferson Street community for dear life. They are under-resourced, but they are holding themselves accountable and they are trying. We love our historic street and we have not given up.
The pervasive civic disinvestment in historic Jefferson Street is what ultimately keeps Jefferson Street stagnant. Placing the headquarters is not an investment, it is opportunistic. If we want true healing and relationship building, if we want to see Jefferson Street, its people and its businesses thrive, we have to move away from this top-down approach embodied in our metro bureaucracy and build a decentralized system that improves the neighborhood while creating financial, social and environmental security for the individuals that make up this neighborhood.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We only need to tap in to innovative campaigns that are working across the country, use the cultural and community sensitive, dynamic, creative and well developed systems of modern American reformers. We cannot just slap a ‘pretty’ police headquarters building on Jefferson Street and expect the neighborhood to magically become economically viable (Because some of the employees will eat lunch?). We must have a plan to remedy the problems of poverty and the struggling business economy.
Most Importantly (This is for you too, Mayor Dean.):
1. Development of our beloved Jefferson Street must be equitable and just, not opportunistic, exploitative or oppressive.
2. We must have a plan of action that brings together the most innovative and effective policies and practices,authentic community engagement and well planned physical development to arrive at the highest levels of benefits for the community with the least unintended consequences.
3. We need financial institutions, philanthropic organizations and especially our government to offer sufficient financial support by looking at income and asset creation, not just beautification projects.
4. All land use decisions should be visibly and measurably connected to local asset creation.
5. We need local hire and living wage provisions.
6. We need to create ways to dedicate sources of new affordable housing revenue and to use arts and culture as an economic development strategy for the area.
7. Before making any new “investment”decisions for historic Jefferson Street, we really need to conduct a thorough assessment that looks at gentrification patterns for the neighborhood. We can then create a plan to make sure the businesses and residents of the area are supported and not pushed out.
8. Lastly, we must collectively create and implement a plan that will draw capital resources to this community while not usurping community control of development, thereby facilitating the strengthening of the resident and business community.
I am writing to you first as a mom, a registered voter that votes, a community activist, and a southern black gal who loves her city. But as an expert in Restorative Justice and a student of racialized poverty and environmental injustice, I hope that you and other supporters of this plan will open your eyes and see how our community will be negatively affected by this project. I hope that you all will think critically and consciously about this issue, vote no to the Jefferson Street headquarters and come back to the table in a way that is democratic, equitable and financially supportive of Jefferson Street community members and its business owners.
If you don’t, I will be happy to organize and fight for what is truly best for Jefferson Street.
Rasheedat Fetuga, proud and well-loved former MNPS Teacher
President/CEO, Gideon’s Army:Grassroots Army for Children
P.S. To all community people and other elected officials who readily supported this project without doing your research or consulting with your community or constituents, take several seats.