In Nashville, it’s become all too common for homeowners to find themselves on the receiving end of spurious fines for alleged code violations — an unnerving pattern rooted in the city’s policies, and weaponized by disingenuous (and gentrifying) neighbors. Radley Balko investigates, in a long and damning feature that embodies exactly why local journalism is so urgently necessary.
Over the past three years, the Metro Codes Department has fielded more than 95,000 complaints. Some complaints concern unkempt vacant lots, abandoned buildings that pose a fire hazard, dumped garbage or cars abandoned in alleyways. Others are requests for the city to remove old signs or debris. But browse the content of the complaints themselves — they’re all conveniently posted and plotted on the city’s “Nashview” site — and you’ll see a lot of complaints from residents about “eyesores,” tall grass, unregistered vehicles, cars parked on grass or houses in need of new paint or siding. You’ll see a lot of neighbors reporting neighbors.
An excerpt from Radley Balko’s new book Rise of the Warrior Cop, on the militarization of U.S. police forces and the reasons SWAT teams have been able to conduct raids for seemingly minor alleged crimes:
“In 2007 a Dallas SWAT team actually raided a Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost for hosting charity poker games. Players said the tactics were terrifying. One woman urinated on herself. When police raided a San Mateo, California, poker game in 2008, card players described cops storming the place ‘in full riot gear’ and ‘with guns drawn.’ The games had buy-ins ranging from $25 to $55. Under California law, the games were legal so long as no one took a ‘rake,’ or a cut of the stakes. No one had, but police claimed the $5 the hosts charged players to buy refreshments qualified as a rake. In March 2007, a small army of local cops, ATF agents, National Guard troops, and a helicopter raided a poker game in Cary, North Carolina. They issued forty-one citations, all of them misdemeanors. A columnist at the Fayetteville Observer remarked, ‘They were there to play cards, not to foment rebellion. . . . [I] wonder . . . what other minutiae, personal vices and petty crimes are occupying [the National Guard’s] time, and where they’re occupying it. . . . Until we get this sorted out, better not jaywalk. There could be a military helicopter overhead.'”
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