Greeson: Priorities, not politics, should be chief concern

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NAACP wants to help select new police chief

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It looks like everyone wants to have a say in who the next Chattanooga police chief will be.

The Chattanooga NAACP now wants a seat at the table.

That table was set by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke as he looks to make arguably the most defining hire of his tenure. Yes, he hit a home run with Fred Fletcher, who will be leaving his post next month.

That table has six seats, other than the mayor. The placecards currently belong to former District Attorney Bill Cox, Pastor Ternae Jordan of Mount Canaan Baptist Church, former U.S. Attorney Bill Killian, Olga de Klein, the former chairwoman of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association’s safety committee, TechTown CEO Chris Ramsey, and General Sessions Court Judge Christie Sell.

“The NAACP views this position as one that will have a great or grave impact on the lives of the citizens of this great city,” local NAACP president Elenora Woods said in an appeal to the City Council. “Recruitment efforts and retention of black officers is of great concern because of the disproportionate number of African-Americans affected by violent crime.”

I could not agree more on the efforts and retention of black officers. Or blue officers. Or polka-dotted officers.

As long as they are effective officers.

Crime in general, and gang crime in particular, is the most important issue facing our city leaders. Yes, the county folks are dealing with jails and schools and potential tax increases, and that is important, too.

But for the city, this is the alpha and the omega. This is the “What will your political legacy be?” question for Berke and his staff and the council that will have to approve the hire.

This is not about politics, even though everything is about politics.

Think about this for a second. The man or woman we are trying to find to be the person who helps turn the tide against violent gang and drug crime must be a champion of justice — not just someone who hits a demographic target.

Hey, if the best option is a black law enforcement professional, great. Excellent. Praise the Lord, pass the ammunition and let’s walk the Bloods and the Crips and whatever gang you know out of town.

Reaching for diversity is a noble pursuit, if for no other reason than we should all appreciate the different points of view from people who have different perspectives.

This, however, is about finding the right fit. This is about finding the right leader. This is about finding the person who will expand on Fletcher’s work and take us to a place that in 10 years we will be able to look back on the violence in our streets the same way we view the long-left-behind nickname “America’s dirtiest city.”

Please, let’s put politics aside and find the chief we need.

In Wednesday’s Times Free Press story by Paul Leach, Woods said, “Besides giving a voice to the ‘largest and oldest civil rights organization’ in the process, a seventh seat on the committee would also give the panel the advantage of having an odd number when it comes to decision-making.”

Here’s two things. First, Berke would be the seventh — and deciding voice, I trust — in this process. Second, while the NAACP has been a champion of civil rights issues for longer than I’ve been alive, this is not a civil rights issue.

This is about finding the right person who will be able to lead efforts to solve our crime and gang problem.

And race, gender, political party or any other characteristic should not be a factor as we look for our next champion.

Contact Jay Greeson at [email protected] and 423-757-6343.