Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said a rally scheduled for Friday night to protest police shootings should go ahead as planned.
The city’s top officer told reporters Friday morning that police will be vigilant and visible during the event, but it should remain open to anyone who wants to attend. That means there will be no security checkpoints, nor a special show of force.
“We’ve taken the approach here that people have a need and have a right to express their concerns,” he said. “And we want that to happen.”
Nearly 2,000 people have indicated they plan to attend the vigil on Public Square organized by Black Lives Matter Nashville to mark the shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota by police officers earlier this week.
But the event will take place a day after a protest in Dallas ended in violence. Police say snipers opened fire on officers working at a Black Lives Matter march. At least five are dead and six were injured.
Anderson expressed grief about the shootings.
“Losing one officer is very difficult,” Anderson said. “I can’t imagine losing five.”
But Metro police don’t plan to handle tonight’s vigil any differently. Anderson said officers were already trained to spot and deal with potential trouble, including the possibility that threats could come from nearby buildings.
“This job has some danger associated with it. But, in fact, it’s a very safe job compared to maybe other jobs,” Anderson said. “Because we work together, we train for events. And obviously there is some danger, but we minimize that.”
Sgt. Mark Woodfin, vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, endorsed Anderson’s approach.
Woodfin is scheduled to work Friday night’s vigil. He says it’s just like any other night for officers, even if their loved ones are more worried following the killings in Dallas.
“We just need communication with our families, and let them know that we love them. Every day could be a bad day. So tonight is really no different.”
Anderson: Decommissioned officer ‘may have disqualified himself’
Anderson also spoke about the statement he put out last night before the Dallas shooting — in which he pleaded with people not to judge all officers by the cases in Louisiana and Minnesota — and the department’s decision to
decommission an officer who made a remark on social media that seemed to make light of one of those tragedies.
Officer Anthony Venable stated, “I would have done 5,” during a Facebook discussion of the killing of Philando Castile, who was shot four times by an officer in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Venable told supervisors he was being sarcastic. Anderson said he “may have disqualified himself” from continuing as a police officer.
“What he said does not in any way represent the men and women of this police department,” Anderson said. “It was a disservice to the city of Nashville. It was a disservice to this police department. It was a disservice to every individual officer on the street. It’s something that can’t be tolerated.”
Anderson said Metro Police are taught to watch what they say online, to de-escalate situations and to avoid the confrontations that seem to make shootings more likely.
The department has no plans to deviate from that philosophy, he said.
Ministers praise department’s approach
Later Friday, leading black ministers in Nashville said the city’s police department doesn’t have the discrimination problem that others might. They praised the work of Anderson as they stood with him outside police headquarters to remember the officers shot in Dallas overnight.
Pastor Michael Joyner said he was already on the phone with the department shortly after the sniper killings.
“We don’t want to see that same kind of incident happen here. We believe that we have the greatest police force in this country. We work together with them.”
Joyner also praised the department for moving swiftly to discipline Venable for his Facebook comments.
Ministers prayed for the city of Dallas. They also asked for peace during the Black Lives Matter vigil planned in Nashville for Friday evening.