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First person: A tragedy inspired her activism

A bullet hole is pictured in a police car as they remove it from the Covenant School campus following a shooting, in Nashville, Tennessee, March 28, 2023. - A heavily armed former student killed three young children and three staff in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack at a private elementary school in Nashville on Monday, before being shot dead by police.
Chief of Police John Drake named the suspect as Audrey Hale, 28, who the officer later said identified as transgender. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
A bullet hole is pictured in a police car as they remove it from the Covenant School campus following a shooting, in Nashville, Tennessee, March 28, 2023. - A heavily armed former student killed three young children and three staff in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack at a private elementary school in Nashville on Monday, before being shot dead by police. Chief of Police John Drake named the suspect as Audrey Hale, 28, who the officer later said identified as transgender. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

When Sheila Clemmons Lee’s son was killed in a Nashville police traffic stop in 2017, she joined a coalition campaigning to create a police oversight board.

Now, the Republican super-majority in the Tennessee state legislature has moved to abolish the board.

SHEILA CLEMMONS LEE: Six years ago, my son Jocques Clemmons, was shot three times in the back by a police officer by the name of Joshua Lippert.

Jocques supposedly had a stop and roll at a stop sign. He pulled into a parking lot, and that’s when Officer Lippert poured in behind him and Jocques was walking towards. Obviously, some words were exchanged. And the next thing I know, Jocques is running. He ends up being shot three times in the back. … I know that he didn’t have a gun.

We went to the DA’s office. And [the district attorney] told us that they were not going to charge Officer Lippert with Jocques’ death. He said that there were no fingerprints, no DNA on this so-called gun that Jocques was supposed to have had. If you got the gun, why wasn’t his fingerprints on it? Why wasn’t his DNA on it?

So we band together. We did a lot of town halls to educate people. We gave them the numbers of how many people had complaints and have been killed from police abuses. So we started talking about getting a community oversight board. We went out, we walked the streets. We did everything. And the FOP, which is Fraternal Order of Police, they were trying to stop us every step of the way.

So we got the signatures and on Nov. 6, we were able to go and vote on a community oversight board. And we won. The people won. The people of Nashville won. Not by a small margin, but by a large margin.

Six years later or five years later, after the board was established, we find out that the lawmakers are trying to do away with the Community Oversight board. And this came right after the Tyree Nichols murder that happened in Memphis with police officers.

So the lawmakers passed this bill and is currently sitting on Governor Bill Lee’s desk waiting to see if he’s going to sign or veto it. We were the ones who voted it in, and I would think it would take the people to vote it out. Not lawmakers. This has nothing to do with them.

CHAKRABARTI: We also heard from Greta McClain, a former detective in Nashville PD’s Adult Sex Crimes unit. She was also part of the coalition that fought for the community oversight board.

GRETA McCLAIN: Sadly, our state legislature has decided that the will of the people who voted overwhelmingly for community oversight boards in our communities, the legislature decided that they don’t care what the people want, that they are going to abolish those community oversight boards and set up their own form of accountability. To me, that is not democracy, that is not representing the people that we were elected to represent. Both the Senate and the House here in Tennessee passed it, and we’re just waiting to see whether the governor signs it or not.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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