NASHVILLE — Nashville mayoral candidate Ralph Bristol defended racial profiling by police at a candidate forum Thursday night, setting off gasps among the largely black audience.
“Profiling is absolutely necessary,” Bristol said when asked for his views on the topic. “Sometimes race might play some part in that.”
“Obviously, that was unpopular,” Bristol continued after the crowd at Meharry Medical College had time to collect themselves, “and I am not afraid to say unpopular things if the experts tell me that a particular characteristic is part of necessary profiling in order to prevent crimes against your families. I’m willing to offend you in order to protect your family.”
Bristol, a former conservative radio talk show host on 99.7 WTN, was sharing the stage with three African-American mayoral candidates when he made the remarks.
“Oh my God. Oh my God!” one woman in attendance could be heard saying as the crowd was still in abuzz. “Did he really just say that?”
On Friday morning, Bristol sought to clarify his remarks on Facebook.
“I didn’t ENDORSE racial profiling by police,” he wrote. “I simply won’t rule it out, which shocked the audience.”
The question, which was posed at a forum hosted by the political talk show Pumps and Politics in partnership with Fox 17, was initially directed to Carol Swain, a former Vanderbilt University professor who has faced criticism for in the past calling profiling “good law enforcement.”
“First of all, there are sentences that are taken out of context going around,” Swain said Thursday. “One of my degrees is in criminal justice, and as a criminal justice major, I understand that profiling is something that police have always done.
“You have profiles for serial killers. You have profiles for terrorists. Profiling is a part of what law enforcement does. The FBI has always used profiles. Profiles should not be based on race or ethnicity, so that’s all I have to say about that.”
jeff obafemi carr, a community activist and former organizer for the anti-transit referendum group NoTax4Tracks, followed Bristol.
“I would rather somebody be honest with me and tell me where they stand and we can navigate through that than somebody smile and do the nice nasty,” carr said, getting cheers in the audience.
“When we’re here as candidates, we have an opportunity to take what everybody in Nashville says and make a place for all,” carr said. “I have been racially profiled. I have two boys who have to walk through our neighborhood who are going to be racially profiled unless we create a culture where it will not be tolerated. That starts from the top and trickles down.”
At-large Councilwoman Erica Gilmore pointed to a recent study called “Driving While Black” from the nonprofit Gideon’s Army, which found black drivers in Nashville are disproportionately pulled over by police.
Gilmore said she was a co-sponsor of council legislation that forced the police department to respond with the findings in a report.
Thirteen candidates are running in the May 24 special mayoral election to finish the remaining term of former Mayor Megan Barry.