Chief Serpas’ Hispanic problem
There were complaints before, but the December murder of Hilda Griselda Gutierrez and her 3-year-old daughter in South Nashville brought the outrage to the forefront: Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas has a Hispanic problem. His officers are slow to respond to complaints within the community and have been criticized for failing to thoroughly investigate crimes against Latinos. At least that’s the perception of many within Nashville’s Hispanic community. Serpas’ finger-in-the-dike approach, which his PR department has dubbed “El Protector,” doesn’t seem to be working. True, police say they’ve captured two people responsible for the Gutierrez murders.
But now comes another bludgeoning—that of Aureliano Ceja, manager of La Hacienda, a Nashville dining landmark for Hispanics and Anglos alike. His murder has in turn sparked renewed outrage from the Latino community. More than 30 business leaders met Monday to outline information to take to police. They’ll meet again Thursday with police officials, demanding more than platitudes from Serpas, who never met a statistic he didn’t like. Here’s a figure he might take to heart. His department employs 1,010 white sworn officers, according to figures his office provided this week. That’s one officer for every 378 white Davidson County residents. On the other hand, the department employs one Hispanic officer for every 1,740 Hispanic residents. (The black ratio falls somewhere between the two.)
Of course, there’s no prohibition on non-Latino officers helping Hispanic residents and vice versa. And Nashville isn’t alone in shortchanging blacks and Latinos because recruiting qualified minorities is a constant struggle. Win that battle, though, and the cry for better policing should subside, rendering public relations gimmicks like “El Protector” unnecessary. —Dean Hinton
Takin’ it to the streets
At 11:45 Tuesday morning, as we walked down Third Avenue on the way to hear Al Gore lecture some Rotarians, a massive line of people riding scooters, sitting in wheelchairs and sporting seeing-eye dogs took over the streets. They bellowed chants in a cold, driving rain: “What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!” And “Our homes, not nursing homes!”
Little did we know that long after lunchtime and well into evening, handicapped people would be blocking intersections and snarling traffic all around the state capitol. Frustrated government employees engaged in shouting matches with poncho-wearing protestors. “You’re trapped—adapt!” a protesting man with a bullhorn yelled.
American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT), the national group that led the protest, took an issue no one talks about and turned it into a two-day event that dominated news coverage. Before Monday, the only Nashvillians who had thought anything about health care for the disabled were people who had personal experiences with it. Now, it’s a political issue. There’s nothing like having someone in a wheelchair show you what confinement feels like to build a little reflective empathy. (Unless you’re Phil Bredesen, in which case you just scold them.)
There’s a time and a place for direct action, and there’s a difference between making a point and needlessly disrupting people’s lives. But this is a group of pissed-off people who the rest of us would just as soon pretend don’t exist. After all, we quickly avert our eyes from disabled folks on a daily basis, and it’s not like these people can stand up to meet our gaze or get our attention. Who could begrudge their provocative—though peaceful—tactics? Sometimes you’ve got to block some traffic to be heard. —John Spragens