Almost 120 years ago, my great, great grandfather Andrew Beverly Vaughn shot and killed John Kirk in the State Capitol. Here's a description of the shooting, which started as a dispute between a third man, J.T. Davis, and Vaughn over a fourth man's firing from a prison job.
Vaughn grabbed the stick, but Davis snatched it back and struck his opponent on the head. Enraged, Vaughn pulled a gun from his pocket, firing three shots. The first barely missed Davis, causing powder burns to his face. He pushed past Deputy Insurance Commissioner Ridley Wills and raced into the corridor. Vaughn followed, firing at least two more shots in the main corridor, where Superintendent Kirk crouched near the north wall. The second or third bullet accidentally struck Kirk behind the left ear, lodging in his brain.
Because telephones were in their early stages (and I'm not sure they were even present in the State Capitol), it's safe to say that no one called 911. Nevertheless after the shooting, the authorities arrived and my ancestor was arrested and later tried for murder:
Vaughn and Davis quietly submitted to arrest when the police arrived. Taken to the station house, neither was placed behind bars. Davis returned to his home on the afternoon train; Vaughn was charged with two counts of assault and released on $5,000 bail. He was later indicted for murder. At the end of his sensational two-week murder trial ending on April 15, 1896, the jury declared Vaughn "not guilty."
I wish I knew more about the "sensational trial" and the justice he received, to give his trial more context. It took place in an era where justice was rough for many and non-existent for more. There was no right to defense counsel for the next 78 years. Random murders of black Tennesseans persisted for the next four decades (at least) in Nashville.
Much has changed since 1895. The Supreme Court has established the right to defense counsel, although funding remains a constant issue. Lynchings are a thing of the past, but far too many black men still die for reasons that seem pointless and avoidable. One overriding theme of the transition in our culture is that we have created a new set of expectations for our police. We call 911 a lot today - we ask a lot from the police.
Today, our police are on the front line assessing mental health crises, caught in the middle of changing opinions about drug use, and primarily responsible for confronting unresolved issues of racism. We expect our officers to be properly trained to deal with these problems, but we are asking police to shoulder too much of these responsibilities alone.
This topic is hard. It’s not “politically safe” to talk about and could even lose me votes. But it’s important. And I’m not going to shy away from tough issues. I’m not going to stay quiet when I know there are real ways we, as a government and a community, can address these problems. We cannot leave all of these issues up to the police alone, but must work together to find solutions.
We must build a better mental health intervention system. We must scale up the drug treatment programs in the jail and run by our judges. Domestic violence needs to be confronted at its source. The conversation about racism should not wait for the police.
As Vice Mayor, I will work with the Council and the Mayor to address these challenges every day. For our City to succeed it must be safe, and for it to be safe we must all persistently confront the problems we see.