Commentary

Editor’s column: What the hell is wrong with Tennessee.

January 31, 2022 6:00 am
Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

What the hell is wrong with Tennessee.

Childhood and college friends who now live elsewhere have increasingly asked me this over the last few years and Thursday, I got a number of calls and texts. 

We made national news twice in a 24-hour period last week and this time, the state legislature wasn’t involved. First, the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the news outlet Tennessee Holler reported an East Tennessee school board voted to remove a graphic novel about the Holocaust from school libraries. 

McMinn County Schools sent out a statement that said they made the decision because the book contained “unnecessary use of profanity and nudity,” while also saying “we have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of such horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated.” 

The book, Maus, uses illustrations of mice to depict Jewish people and cats as Nazis. So to be clear, the nudity isn’t of humans, it’s comic mice, dark though the subject be. 

A display in New York's Strand Bookstore, Jan. 30. (Photo: Cindy West)
A display in New York’s Strand Bookstore, Jan. 30. (Photo: Cindy West)

And while I laud the school board for acknowledging kids need to learn about the Holocaust, I’m not sure that there is any way to pretty up the packaging of it. They think profanity and nudity is bad? It’s not nearly as bad as a megalomaniac uber-racist crafting up a plan to kill as many Jewish people as possible.

The second incident for which we made news happened Thursday in Nashville. Metro Nashville Police and Tennessee Highway Patrol officers shot and killed 37-year-old Landon Eastep after a standoff on I-65 South. 

Video shot by a passenger in a car halted on the highway while the scene played out has gone viral and while it’s hard to tell exactly how many cops shot Eastep, who was armed with a box knife, it appeared at least six, and possibly more, fired on him. Two fired shots after the initial volley, when Eastep was surely already dead.

I know we should be careful about jumping to conclusions: Was the man having a mental health emergency? One would think that would be the only explanation to face off the more than dozen police officers pictured in video. I also know that once someone reaches for their pocket, as the man is seen to do in the video, officers are trained to assume he has a gun. 

At the time the police shot Landon Eastep, they had been engaged in a standoff for hours. It began when an officer driving past saw Eastep sitting on a guard rail. 

From sitting on a guard rail to dead in a matter of hours.

You might not think these incidents have anything in common, but I beg to differ. While neither can be laid at the foot of any individual, I argue they are symptomatic of a lack of leadership in our state. We are an ugly, rudderless ship and Tennesseans desperately need an able captain. 

The Maus mess is one of several attempts to remove or ban books in Tennessee and the attempts include a curriculum challenge in posh Williamson County by a conservative group over books about Martin Luther King Jr. Those wanting to ban or restrict books previously deemed acceptable for our kids have become emboldened by recent legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory, an academic concept not taught in K-12 public schools.

Gov. Bill Lee, we can only assume, is fine with Tennesseans again looking like a bunch of hicks and idiots in the national media because his office is radio silent this week. The big news emanating from Lee’s office is that he will give his annual State of the State tonight. If you don’t want to listen in,here’s my prebuttal:  It’s not good. 

Meanwhile, Thursday’s police shooting marked the 11th in Nashville since January 2021, eight of which have been fatal. That’s almost one shooting by police a month. This all comes after Nashville Mayor John Cooper appointed veteran officer John Drake chief of police in November 2020. 

Two incidents last week may at first glance not seem connected, but in fact, they are symptomatic of a lack of leadership in Tennessee.

Cooper’s office says he’s working to address public safety issues, including working with Drake to reduce unnecessary use of force to providing training on de-escalation. If that’s so, the tree is falling in the forest with no one to hear if, for police killings of civilians are at an all time high. 

In June, the Lookout wrote about a partnership between the Crisis Treatment Center and the Metro Nashville Police Department to provide deescalation training to cops. “Police officers will pair up with mental health specialists in an effort to de-escalate situations and ensure those in crisis get appropriate care,” wrote Dulce Torres Guzman. 

Apparently, that de-escalation training didn’t work out so well for Landon Eastep.

I waited for 24 hours to hear an empathetic statement from Cooper about how he visited Eastep’s family or even to offer thoughts and prayers or how the incident would be fully investigated. 

A day later, his office tweeted a statement that was light on empathy.

Tennessee needs leaders. I can’t even say we need better leaders, because we have no leadership now.

I love Tennessee but for a beautiful state, we sure look ugly. I don’t know what the solution is but to vote the bums out, but I bet I’m not the only Tennessean looking with scant hope for someone, anyone, to step up and lead. 

 

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

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