I graduated from high school with 46 other people in a town of 2100. That wasn’t the largest town I’ve ever lived in as a kid. I also lived in towns with populations approaching 3600. I guess those aren’t even really towns. They’re more like villages. But my point is that it’s a number I can wrap my head around. I know in my bones what it takes to walk from one end of a village that size and back again. I know what it means to ride your bike around a town that size. How many of those people you would know. How many would know you. Who gets a couple of fingers briefly raised off the steering wheel when you pass them and who gets a honk. Who can be counted on to get your car out of a field. Who put it in there.
It’s a little unit of measurement that makes the world make sense. That’s the size of where I’m from.
In the two years we’ve had Sheriff Hall’s 287(g) program, he’s made two villages disappear. Five thousand people that did live here now don’t. Not by choice, but by Sheriff Hall’s decision. That man has the power to make a village of people a year disappear. Poof. Gone. Vanished from our landscape.
Now, Nashville, I want to ask you a question.
Did you notice?
Do you feel safer? Do you feel that the jobs they “stole” are now easier for you to get? Is the Hispanic population in this city now at a level you’re comfortable with? In other words, the program is working. Can you tell?
Because, I have to say that, from my perspective, as a white woman who is out and about, I can’t tell that we’re missing 5,000 Nashvillians. I don’t feel like crime is down. My next-door neighbor just got broken into. I know jobs aren’t easier to get. My brother is still out of work. And I still see a lot of Hispanic people around. As a hippie liberal, I don’t mind sharing the city with people who are not like me, but I’m wondering, if people who are different than you make you uncomfortable, do you feel less uncomfortable now?
And it really bothers me in a way that’s making it hard for me to write this post that 5,000 people in this city can disappear over the course of two years, a population twice the size of the town I graduated high school from, and I can’t see it. I don’t see it. The Sheriff takes a population the size of my measuring block of the world out of the city and it’s not noticeable to me. It makes you wonder, could he get rid of 5,000 people like you without the rest of the city really noticing?
And let’s talk about the genius of it both working and not working. It works in that Hall has disappeared 5,000 people, but it has not worked in that most of Nashville hasn’t really noticed (you know, unless it’s your mom or brother or your husband; then you notice like your heart is on fire). So, he can stand up before people in the community–who haven’t seen much of a difference–and argue that, though the program works (see his 5,000 people), for it to really work, he’s going to need more funding or more time.
If it’s a success, we must continue it, because it works. If it’s a failure, we must continue it, because it’s just not working yet.
Of course, it’s never going to really work. Most Hispanic people who are here in Nashville, who open the restaurants that you hypocrites want to eat it, who build the houses that you hypocrites want to live in, who clean the offices you want to work in, are here legally. (In a sane world, “we’ll take you’re stuff, but you’re going to have to leave” would be recognized for the theft it is.) And it doesn’t matter how egregious Hall’s 287(g) program is, how unjust it is, how cruel it is, it only deals with people who are here illegally.
Your vision of a city with no brown people in it, with no Spanish on the street signs or the radio or in your grocery store?
We’re never going back to that. It’s not coming back. It is over and gone and I say good riddance and you say it’s too bad and it doesn’t matter because those days are behind us.
It doesn’t matter how many villages of people Hall sacrifices to your hatred, Nashville is never going to be an Old South–White and Black only–city again, if it ever was. The old ways are over.
And isn’t that convenient? Hall’s people can shackle you to a bed while you’re in labor. They can treat you so poorly it makes the nurses who are trying to help you deliver cry and plead for you. They can take your baby from you when it’s just a day old, when he most needs the milk you can provide him, and all for a traffic stop.
And then–and really, this is the cherry on the sundae–the Sheriff can do you that wrong and then he can put you into the system, and have you sent away, so that he never has to face you again. He doesn’t have to look in the face of the injustice he’s perpetrated because the person he did it to is gone.
Doesn’t that work well for him? Ain’t that just great?
The people most likely to be affected by his racist program, who can speak most clearly to its effects on the lives of our neighbors, can all either be disappeared or someone they care about can be disappeared. In an environment like that, who would step forward to speak about the problems?
Thank the gods Villegas came forward and spoke honestly about what happened to her, because her bravery means that no women in labor in Sheriff Hall’s custody are shackled any more. Most people in Nashville didn’t know that was standard treatment for pregnant women in custody and, thanks to her being willing to speak out, that barbaric practice was stopped.
Hall should be ashamed that it was happening at all. Just like he should be ashamed to discover that the most vocal supporters of his 287(g) program are vile old-school racists.
But part of being ashamed means that you have to face the people you have wronged. Hall never has to do that, because the people he’s wronged go away. The people who could be the most vocal critics of the program, who could tell us if real criminals are being rounded up or if it’s just a way to harrass and terrorize the most vulnerable members of our community, literally can’t speak out once they have the knowledge, because they’ve been forced out of town. Just like Villegas is about to be forced out of town.
Hall’s program is perfectly legal. And the people who are here illegally are indeed here illegally. But it still doesn’t make the program right. And frankly, I find it disturbing that any one person in Davidson County has the power to disappear 5,000 people in two years.
And I really wish you did, too.