The Week Online reported last fall on the killing of Lebanon, Tennessee, resident John Adams (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/159.html#policeshooter). Adams, a 62-year old African American, was watching the 10:00 news with his wife when a local drug squad mistakenly broke down their front door and shot him to death in his living room after he opened fire on the armed, masked and unannounced intruders.
In the just concluded trial of former Lebanon Police Lt. Steve Nokes, who led the raid, Lorine Adams testified she thought someone was trying to rob and murder her and her husband of 34 years. "That's when I said, 'Get the gun. It's a home invasion,'" she testified. "That's what I thought it was."
By the time she recognized the intruders as police officers, it was too late. "When I looked up and saw they were police officers, I knew they were in the wrong place," she testified. "I was telling them, but they weren't listening."
Neither, apparently, were the jurors at Nokes' trial. On June 8th, the jury, consisting of eleven whites and one black, acquitted Nokes of charges of reckless homicide, tampering or fabricating evidence and aggravated perjury. It deadlocked on a fourth charge of criminal responsibility for negligent homicide, after which Circuit Judge John Wootten Jr. declared a mistrial.
The Tennessee town's African-American community is not satisfied, and that discontent has crossed color lines as well. The Wilson County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will hold a news conference today to express its unhappiness with the acquittals and to criticize what it calls a poor prosecution effort.
"It was a crime against the black community, but what we have to say means nothing," NAACP local chapter Vice President Gary Owens told the Daily Tennessean. "The Lebanon Police Department thinks it's untouchable, and that's what we call them -- 'the untouchables.'"
Owens and NAACP member Robert Huddleston told the newspaper local law enforcement and political officials had turned a deaf ear to years of warnings that such incidents could occur and that as a result police-community relations have been severely damaged. "We've gone back 40 years as a black community," Huddleston told the Tennessean. "There are people so upset with the police I don't know what they are going to do."
Some white residents interviewed by the Tennessean also smelled something funny. "I think he (Nokes) was the head man and he was responsible that his information is correct," said Ed Hamlett.
Others wondered why Nokes, alone of all the officers on the raid, was charged. "From the very beginning I didn't think that it should have been pinned on one guy," said Jodie Bentley, another white resident. "I don't think you can prosecute one man and make him the scapegoat," said John Ash, also white.
The NAACP's Huddleston agreed on that point. "It should have gone up the chain of command," he said. "It goes all the way up. They all made mistakes. Until we do that, we won't have any justice."
The city's safety commissioner, Billy Weeks, who was police chief when the raid took place, wanted to move forward. He told the Tennessean that the city had taken procedural steps to prevent similar incidents in the future, it was preparing a cultural diversity training program for its officers, and it was monitoring traffic stops to prevent racial profiling. "We don't want this to reflect on us forever," he said. "This is just something we need to put behind us."
Lebanon's black community, however, is not so quick to forget.