The Metro Nashville Police Department issued its first citation for a mask violation on Lower Broadway on Wednesday night.
But they didn’t cite one of the young honky tonk-goers who have crowded the sidewalks in recent weeks. Instead, they cited and arrested a 61-year-old Black homeless man. Court records show the charge against Joseph Bryant was dropped at a hearing this afternoon.
“This is what white privilege looks like,” says Davie Tucker of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. “It’s who gets a pass and who gets punished. Who benefits and who suffers.”
According to an arrest report, he was cited around 6:30 p.m. after receiving a warning for not wearing a mask. He had two in his pocket. The arresting officer writes that he then saw the man an hour later, still maskless.
“A custodial arrest was made in lieu of a citation because the suspect’s continued defiant behavior lead [sic] this officer to believe the offense would continue if cited again and released,” writes Officer Robert Croteau.
Bryant was arrested and booked on a $500 bail. He is listed in the report as recently staying at the Rescue Mission.
Tucker is frustrated that no one in the largely white crowds gathering downtown in recent weekends has been cited or arrested, but that a Black man who couldn’t afford his own bail was taken to jail.
“Enforcement has to be just. It has to be equitable,” he says. “This is part and parcel of what is wrong with not only policing, but our inability to have real conversations about race. That, even from a political perspective, the discretion that the officer used was unwise.”
Tucker says the bail fund planned to pay for the man’s release Thursday.
The arrest comes just after the police department announced stricter enforcement protocols for Lower Broadway. The department had heard heated comments during a meeting with council members.
MNPD has been criticized for its lackadaisical approach to mask enforcement in the bustling tourism district. The agency said it had issued 20,000 warnings.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the charge against Joseph Bryant was dropped.