Open Letter: Covid 19 Testing in Urban Communities
May 12, 2020
To Whom It May Concern:
It has been brought to our attention that Governor Bill Lee has called in the National Guard to facilitate Covid-19 testing for low-income urban community areas, elderly housing, and other high-density residential settings. It has also been brought to our attention that the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) and other local housing authorities statewide are specifically inviting the National Guard to test residents on public housing properties.
We, the undersigned, understand the critical nature of this virus and the following specific needs that this strategy intended to meet:
1. To understand the scope of the Covid-19 virus in Nashville and across the state;
2. To decrease the spread of the virus in the city by having the information needed to properly administer patient care;
3. To reduce exposure of front line workers, including the Metro Nashville Police Department, from increased exposure to the virus from those who may not yet have symptoms; and
4. To support Meharry Medical College which has taken over all Covid-19 testing for the city
and is now at labor capacity.
However, in spite of these intentions, we have several concerns about this initial targeting of public housing communities, the fear it has caused to families, and the precedent it could be setting for future civil and human rights violations.
Our concerns are as follows:
1. The targeting of public housing communities appears racialized and reinforces the history of harm and oppression inflicted on black communities by government forces;
2. The implementation process is too rapid, lacks transparency, and is not well planned, with far reaching civil rights implications.
3. Our National, state, and city leadership excluded grassroots community leaders, credible
messengers, and public health officials from planning and failed to get full buy-in from the
4. Residents were not informed about the process, their testing rights, or their rights for refusal;
5. We believe no one should be held against their will at the shelters at the Fairgrounds and are concerned about the lack of transparency and clarity around whether people are actually
being forcibly held there, if they will be arrested if they try to leave, the legal basis for those
arrests and why the Fairgrounds is being classified as a “penal institution”;
6. The Mayor's office and the Metro Public Health Department did not disclose to the
community that the names and addresses of those who test positive for COVID-19 would be
shared with law enforcement which is a blatant violation of privacy and increases distrust as
well as the risk of community members on MDHA properties being impacted by explicit and
implicit bias; and
7. The National Guard and Metro Nashville Police Officers have been photographed in these
communities not following health protocols such as wearing masks, gloves, and other
personal protection equipment.
In response to these concerns, we have collectively developed the following demands:
1. Before any testing is conducted, MDHA and state/city officials over this initiative must be
accountable and justify the significance of testing on MDHA properties as opposed to
strategically testing higher-risk communities.
2. Cease and desist the sharing of the list of people who test positive. The Metro Nashville
Community Oversight Board, the Metro Board of Health and other oversight agencies should be involved in planning, monitoring, and managing this list to ensure that it is properly managed.
3. Should MDHA be able to justify testing in public housing communities, lead agencies over
this project must:
a. Fully communicate with residents the plan of action and inform them of their rights as
residents before any testing activity begins involving Guard personnel;
b. Ensure that guard personnel follow protocols and guidelines set by public health
officials and be in support of their efforts;
c. Ensure that Guard personnel are unarmed and dressed as unmilitary-like as
d. Communicate with residents and confirm that they fully understand who will have
access to their personal health information and that they never feel pressured to
submit to testing.
e. Gain approval of these protocols through all the proper channels, including
grassroots community leadership, with complete understanding and participation of
every agency involved and complete transparency and accountability to the public.
We recognize the importance of testing. However, we absolutely reject the imposition of any
government project onto citizens and find this initiative and the way it has been brought to MDHA communities in Nashville to be particularly and uniquely alarming. Residents of public housing live in neighborhoods where police surveillance and monitoring are already at unacceptably high levels.
Residents have largely given up any expectations of privacy in exchange for the promise of safe and secure housing. They deserve the dignity of full disclosure of the consequences of their choices so that they can make fully informed choices for themselves and their families. It is imperative that we do not continue with the racialized patterns of our past and that communications, messaging, and community outreach is done proactively and effectively to ensure the awareness, safety and health of our community members.
President/CEO Gideon’s Army
No Exceptions Prison Collective
National Lawyers Guild - Tennessee Chapter
Southerners On New Ground (SONG) Nashville
Workers Dignity/Dignidad Obrera
Open Table Nashville
Nashville Economic Justice Alliance
Nashville Community Bail Fund
Black Lives Matter Nashville
Democracy Nashville - Democratic Communities
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Nashville
Tennessee Prison Books Project
Unheard Voices Outreach
Music City Riders United
Jamel Campbell Gooch
Bill Lee, Governor
John Cooper, Nashville Mayor
Lisa Piercey, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health
Alex Jahangir, Board Chair, Metro Board of Health
Steve Anderson, Chief of Police, Metro Nashville Police Department
Jill Fitcheard, Executive Director, Metro Nashville Community Oversight
Bill Purcell, Board Chair, Metro Development and Housing Agency
James Harbison, Executive Director, Metro Development and Housing Agency
Michael Hedges, Board Chair, Tennessee Housing Development Agency
Ralph M. Perrey, Executive Director, Tennessee Housing Development Agency
Lang Wiseman, Deputy to the Governor and Chief Counsel, Governor’s Office
Blake Harris, Chief of Staff, Governor’s Office
Brandon Gibson, Senior Advisor, Governor’s Office
Tony Niknejad, Policy Director, Governor’s Office
Danielle Barnes, Commissioner, Department of Human Services
Juan Williams, Commissioner, Department of Human Resources
Brensey Thompson, Community Liaison, Metro Nashville Community Oversight
John Buntin, Director of Policy/Community Safety, Mayor’s Office
Kathy Floyd-Buggs, Director of Neighborhoods, Mayor’s Office
Brenda Haywood, Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement, Mayor’s Office
Bethany Lemons, Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Mayor’s Office
Ashley Warrington, Director of State Government Relations, Mayor’s Office