An exemplary city

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -


NO PLACE I have ever visited or lived has impressed me more than Nashville, a city in the southern US state of Tennessee. From my first visit about seven years ago to do research for a book I was writing, Nashville wowed me as a place that runs like a well-oiled machine. We caught a glimpse of the city’s efficiency on March 27 during the Covenant School shooting.

It’s not surprising that experts hailed Nashville’s response as a textbook case in dealing with mass shootings. It’s merely an example of how that city values and exhibits leadership, organisation and collaboration. Videos of the police officers who responded to the call of the mass shooting at the Presbyterian school show that police, teachers and dispatchers worked together in a well-planned and well-practised collaboration. Swift and methodical action resulted in the shooter’s death within 14 minutes of the emergency call.

Watch those videos and see how calm everyone is. They know their jobs, and they trust in collaboration. In their press conference, police officers and first responders Mathis and Michael Collazo spoke about the exemplary work the dispatchers did in relaying information to them. Those dispatchers also liaised with local hospitals, putting them on alert and organised school buses to take the children to a safe place.

The police organised gathering points in nearby churches. Psychologists were made available to everyone, from the teachers and officers to the officers’ family members, because, as Collazo pointed out, “Our families are with us in this too.”

If you watch the videos of the officers who served as first responders to the Covenant School shooting, you will see impeccable preparation and seamless work among officers who never worked together. They were cool and collected because they had been prepared with classes and practice exercises to deal with mass shootings. Their families spoke to reporters about all the times those officers missed family gatherings because they jumped at the opportunity for more training.

Teachers did an admirable job in keeping children locked down. Some teachers got children out of the school and some teachers remained behind at strategic places to provide information for arriving police officers. Those teachers are calm and informative. A school employee sat near an entrance and had the keys ready to open the door for officer Rex Engelbert. Inside, the school police systematically cleared rooms until they heard gunshots, the signal they needed to locate the shooter.

What we should be noticing is the pride everyone takes in their jobs, their service and their preparation. Notice the way they credit each other and the joy they take in collaboration and swift action. I saw this at every level when I stayed in Nashville, a city with a population of 693,000 people.

I’m contrasting that action in Nashville with the inaction, ineptitude and carelessness that I often experience in Trinidad. Take just a little piece of the street I live on, paved not long ago, only to be torn up soon after to fix a box drain about five feet wide. About 20 CEPEP workers arrive every day for a few hours on that project going on for months now, and it’s still not completed.

WASA has dug up that newly paved road to fix water pipes because no one thought of that before fixing the road. Leaking pipes have been a problem for years. There is rarely if ever any co-ordination between WASA and the Ministry of Works to fix back the road in a timely manner. I’m thinking about how much time and money have been wasted on that little stretch of road and wondering how does a place figure out how to organise itself and function on the level of Nashville?

The media, which are quick to criticise, hailed Nashville’s handling of the school shooting and constantly contrasted what was done right there with the fiasco in Uvalde, Texas where body cameras proved the police to be inept liars who bungled their jobs in the worst way. There was no communication or collaboration there.

Experts say that the bodycam footage from Colazzo and Engelbert will be studied by police officers in other cities for years to come.

This is Nashville's deeply conservative and Republican stronghold that fought on the side of the proslavery south during the civil war. It’s civil rights fight was intense and exemplary, thanks partly to an Antiguan lawyer, Zephaniah Alexander Looby. How did Nashville deal with its history and become such an exemplary city? That’s a remarkable story worth exploring next week.


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