Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nashville faces wisdom of 287(g) vote

Sculptures of Wisdom, Law and Courage at Davidson County Courthouse. Photo by Brent Moore. Licensed by Creative Commons.

How many peace-loving families have to be sacrificed to get rid of dangerous criminals?

Prayer vigil at 5:30 p.m.

Last night, I was at the Courthouse to watch the Metro Council public safety committee deliberate the "287(g)" agreement between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Thousands of people have been deported out of Middle Tennessee as a result of the program, most of whom were not dangerous criminals. The 287(g) agreement was nonetheless unanimously approved by the committee.

Two 287(g) opponents were given the chance to express their concerns that people who aren't dangerous are being caught up in the program more than dangerous criminals are. David Esquivel, the son of Cuban immigrants, talked about the disproportionately severe impact on ordinary people in the immigrant community. Pastor Gwen Brown-Felder of Ernest Newman United Methodist Church offered the committee a vision of 287(g) as contrary to our faith. Her comments crystallized for me that we will look back on 287(g) in shame.

The good news is that a handful of council members asked thoughtful questions of the Sheriff, who gave his own presentation. At least two council members, however, took a simplistic view of the issue. One of them quoted the Bible and in the next breath concluded with, "what part of illegal don't you understand." So much for Letter from Birmingham Jail.

The committee's unanimous vote in favor of the program was disappointing. I left the Council chambers concerned for my hometown. To see the city so far from Brown-Felder's vision was disheartening.

As I was walking off the beautiful new lawn of Public Square, under a refreshingly clear field of stars, my only recourse was to pray. I prayed for my city. I prayed for the hearts of stone to be softened. God was close, bigger than the city machinations that had just taken place.

Below my feet as I faced War Memorial auditorium and the newly refurbished Deaderick Avenue, I noticed the word "STRENGTH" in an artistic feature in the Public Square pavement. "Strength" was a value the committee likely thought it was implementing perfectly by approving 287(g) without a second thought. I wondered what other values appeared in the pavement around the circle-shaped lawn, and whether there might be a complimentary value to strength that the city aspired to. I walked around the circle to the towers that bump up against the Cumberland River to see what was the counterbalance to "Strength."

It was "PROTECTION" - surely another value that the committee would consider it had upheld last night. Was I surprised that "Strength" would be balanced by "Protection" - definitely, yes. Not much of a check and balance.

Then I noticed I wasn't done examining the circle. In the 6 o'clock position in the circle there was another value.

It was "WISDOM."

Particularly appropriate that wisdom is the closest of the three values to the new reflecting pools and also to the fountain that rises from the ground at the southern entrance to the plaza. A city that so thoughtfully developed this place of reflection and meditation rightly honored wisdom with this central and thoughtful location.

It's an empty wisdom, however, that merely defers to strength and protection instead of informing the exercise of those values. In the words of Primo Levi:
A country is considered the more civilized the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak or a powerful one too powerful.
The charge of this city to the members of the Metro Council is that they bring wisdom to their full vote on 287(g) tonight. I would ask council members, have you spent any time with immigrants and their world-class advocates in Nashville, without which it is impossible to fully consider the facts about an immigrant-related local program?

Have you asked how many peace-loving families have to be sacrificed to get rid of dangerous criminals? Can the disproportions ever become so great before the trade-off is deemed unjust, inefficient and unwise?

Constituents of Nashville's council, please ask yourself the same questions and urge your representatives to write our laws and give our city's approval not just with safety or protection in mind. Wisdom calls for more.

A prayer vigil will be held tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Courthouse.

For more on the strength, protection, and wisdom symbolism at the Courthouse, as well as other values, see Paragraph II B of this 1981 report by Ann Reynolds, Historic Preservationist, Historical Commission of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County and section 1.G. of this recent call for artwork to represent those values. See the diagram below for the layout of Public Square and the pavement decorations.

1 comment:

  1. This is perhaps the best piece you have ever written.


    My heart is heavy about this vote as well.


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