The Tennessean from Nashville, Tennessee on April 3, 1988 · Page 198
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The Tennessean from Nashville, Tennessee · Page 198

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Nashville, Tennessee
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Sunday, April 3, 1988
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Page 198
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Blacks, police still poles apart FRANK GIBSON Staff Writer The most visible and dramatic clashes between Nashville's black community and the white establishment over the past 20 years have come in relations with the Metro Police Department A series of volatile episodes three in which white police officers shot and killed young, unarmed blacks focused attention on the fact that blacks were poorly represented in the officer ranks and almost absent from high-ranking, decision-making positions. "The Police Department and the Sheriffs Department have been looked at with different pairs of glasses," said attorney and longtime activist Walter Searcy. The Police Department has been forced to be on the "cutting edge" of community relations because it is exclusively responsible for law enforcement under Metropolitan government, Searcy said. The Sheriffs Department does not have broad police powers. Tension between police and the black community had built from repeated reports of abuse of black citizens even before the riots which followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Various episodes since have aggravated the department's race relations On Feb. 1, 1973, police killed Cedric Overton, 21, who police said was caught "peeking into" a parked car. A policeman admitted he planted a knife on Overton's body. Fired rookie Officer Jackie Pyle was later fined $10 in Criminal Court Black, white cial art could be. He was one of the first black students admitted to the Harris School of Advertising Art and the first to be hired as an illustrator at the Methodist Publishing House. Later, he worked for the Baptist publishers. I owe him a lot for putting me on the right track, but I've lost track of him." Rivers, who presently shares a two-artist show with Susan Van Riper at the Nashville Artist Guild, studied at night and took art courses wherever he could. He is especially appreciative of an art teacher at Cameron High School who fed her students' interest by taking them to galleries and museums on weekends and invited artists to speak to her class. "At that time," Rivers said, "I didn't have any other black artists to look up to, except Aaron Douglas at Fisk. I could only read about people like Henry Os-sawa Tanner and others." He took some courses at Tennessee State with artists Ardella Thompson and Greg Ridley and praises them as both teachers and artists. Thompson, who is now retired after nearly 40 years as an art teacher, feels that black artists are "not really very much encouraged to produce. Unfortunately, they create an art i.e. ethnic subjects that may be more appealing to blacks than to the general community, and this happens to be a community in which blacks don't buy very much art I don't know the way oHtpfthisdileiriBia.;',', , Yes, she replied in answer to a question about discrimination: "Th(p Is a kind prejudice jhat is APRIL 3. 1988 The TENNESSEAN THE DREAM LIVES ON 11 On Nov. 23, 1973, police killed Ronald Lee Joyce, 19, a Tennessee State University student, as he fled a . dice game in a vacant house. Officers mistakenly thought they were going to a burglary. An estimated 1,000 people marched from Joyce's home to police headquarters and the Metro Courthouse. Five days after the Joyce shooting Police Chief Hugh Mott, a National Guard general, resigned. Mott, a law and order type with no formal police training, had been under pressure for months for the Overton shooting, rising crime rates and statements he made to a civic club that officers engaged in "harassment" sometimes got "a little tough" with suspects. He said officers enforced the law "any way we feel we have to to get the job done." On Feb. 13, 1981, a veteran police lieutenant looking for a murder weapon, shot through a partially closed motel room door and killed Mrs. Linda Louise Sumler. It later turned out she had nothing to do with the case, and the officer only got a 30-day suspension for not following police procedures. That episode proved that Mott's replacement Joe D. Casey, a police veteran popular with rank and file officers, had his own race relations problems. Casey has frequently been criticized by black Metro Council members for officers' abusive tactics. Such dramatic incidents have made it difficult for the city to attract black candidates for police jobs, said Searcy. Casey disputes suggestions that the episodes accelerated the hiring and artists share devastating and destructive. It's not overt but it's there and people's actions are shaped by it In terms of economic and artistic survival It's very hard to deal with. People are smiling, gracious and charming, but nothing happens. They donl buy our was formerly on the faculty of both Fisk and Tennessee State, and now is freelancing. Like Rivers, he is a member of the Nashville Artist Guild. Presently an exhibition of his recent work may be seen at Diop's African Art Gallery on West End. While there is activity in the galleries, corporate interest in the work of black artists is low right now, according to Earl Hooks, chairman of the art department at Fisk University, "The scene is not as vibrant as it once was. There is a regression, and not too much new right now. The artists who are still working are those who are intrenched in teaching. "It has to do with the climate of the times. While in the 1960s black artists were producing lots of 'message art,' now they are settling back in their own niches, traveling more, seeking more camaraderie. In Nashville, the only activity is found among those who were here in the beginning." Hooks is of the opinion that the local market for art hasn't grown much, "but when black artists do participate in it they get fair and equal consideration. It's too bad that a lot of artists haven't set up studios apart from their classrooms, and that situation's Wot Cohf indd to black artists it's all artists.-" Asked if any black artists were making a living without also being i : z i : ' 'i 1 1. i 1 1 i i " t n i t ? promotion of blacks. He concedes the presence of more Mack officers makes the black community "more comfortable with us." The police chief cites numbers he says show progress: An 84 increase in the number of black officers since 1973 from 69 to 127. A 183 increase in black supervisorsfrom 12 to 34, including five black captains, two black majors and a black assistant chief. In 1973, the highest ranking black was a captain. "To do the job that we should be doing, we have to have a better representation of the community," Casey says. Reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor show that of the total 897 employees (including civilians) In both the Sheriff and Police departments in 1975, only 11.4, were black. That rose slightly by 1980. Of 1,224 positions, 1 1.6 were filled by blacks. Census figures for 1980 showed that Davidson County's population was 23.2 black. By 1986, 16.2 of the 1,332 police and sheriffs jobs were held by blacks many of them in civilian positions. Federal court records show that in 1980 only 8.5 of the 1,048 "sworn" police officers were black. By 1985, blacks held only 12.5 of the police officer positions. When civilian personnel are counted, black representation in the Police Department rises substantially. Reports show that 16.4 of the 1,526 jobs in the Police Department on December 31, 1987, were held by blacks. That's still almost 7 behind population. plights teachers, he mentioned Michael Mo Bride. McBride is a painter who maintains a studio at his home and supports his family, a wife and two children, by sales of his work to a wholesale concern, and by portrait commissions. "Art itself is a very hard field," he said, though he loves it and calls him self "one of those lucky ones." He sells his mass produced oils, basically of black images, to wholesale compa nies. This enables him to separate commercial and fine art and to continue in work he loves. He has had commissions from the Matthew Walker Health Center, the Urban League and the World Health Organi zation. "But doing volume painting, he adds, "enables me to feed my fam lly." His training was at Washington College in St. Louis, McBride said, "but if I had trained to be just a black artist my opportunities would have been cut down. You can't see yourself as black, yellow, white, but you have to find something you can relate to that's the key and keep in mind that art is universal. That's what I love about it. "To support myself and my family I have to beat the pavement show my work, follow up and remind po tential buyers of my presence. I can't depend on someone coming to me or offering me a show. I've never been teacher. If I don't paint, my family doesn't eat. If a teacher doesn't paint, he still draws his paycheck. Li Fran Fort, art teacher at Fisk, feels that one problem among Nash' ville's black artists is that "they are too much involved in their own thing CALL 254-1031 TO PLACE YOUR CLASSIFIED AD Remembering of Martin Luther King, Jr. His Dream Will Never Be Lost 5TH DISTRICT CONGRESSMAN BOB CLEMENT Over 25 years ago, children were bombed in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Today, we thank God Almighty that all children of color are educated together, hand-in-hand together, and are realizing the dream of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are witnessing a facet of this dream throughout our community. Let's not let the dream die! Sheriff Fate Thomas and The Metropolitan Sheriff's Department A tribute' ta the rnrmnrv nf Martin Luther King, the modern Mose, who led hi people to Freedom, Dignity and Self-Worth. WILLIAM CINTER ft SONS FUNERAL DIRECTORS INC (61S) 329-4301 The Leadership raflh'i

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