Pending Blackburn’s ruling, do Black lives really matter in Nashville?

By NIARA SAVAGE | Nashville Voice

On Monday, the Daniel Hambrick case will reach another apex, as judge Melissa Blackburn will decide whether or not there is sufficient probable cause against officer Andrew Delke, for the case to go before a grand jury.

The case is notable for several reasons. This is the first time a Metro Nashville Police Officer has ever been charged with criminal homicide for an on-duty incident.

In addition, District Attorney Glenn Funk boldly decided to obtain a warrant for Delke’s arrest, as opposed to going before a grand jury that would then decide whether or not Delke should be indicted.

According to Funk, a grand jury would have reduced transparency and diminished public access to details of the defense and prosecution arguments.

Funk’s decision to carry out the preliminary hearing before General Sessions Judge Melissa Blackburn allows for a more open process because grand jury proceedings are typically closed to the public.

The fate of the Hambrick case would be determined and records of those proceedings would not be readily available to the public eye.

There are only two possible outcomes for Monday’s decision and each will trigger after effects of seismic proportions. Either Judge Blackburn will find probable cause against officer Delke, or she won’t.

If the judge finds probable cause against the officer, that is a good sign that our justice system is working correctly. The officer will be innocent until proven guilty, provided with a robust defense, face a jury of his peers, and the Hambrick family will rightfully have their day in court.

All Americans must be able to trust and believe in a justice system that is equitable and impartial. This is especially true for the most vulnerable populations, including minorities, who have been at statistical odds with the American justice system since its inception.

If the case moves forward to a trial, citizens can be reassured of the fact that the justice system strives to be blind and fair. Increased faith in the system is wholly good for the City of Nashville.  

But what if the judge, despite the video evidence, and the undeniable proof that Daniel Hambrick was shot in the back three times as he fled, finds no probable cause against Andrew Delke?

What if the judge overlooks the fact that there was no traffic stop and no crime committed by Hambrick?

What if she is so distracted by Hambrick’s criminal record that she forgets the fact that the 25-year old was 200 yards away from Delke and retreating when the officer—who was not in immediate danger—made a decision to stop pursuit to steadily and deliberately take aim and fire shots at Hambrick.

What if she accepts the defense’s argument that because the officer was provoked and annoyed by chasing Hambrick, that it justifies his murder?

If Blackburn, who was democratically elected by the people of Davidson County to serve the people of Davidson County, can take a good look of all of the evidence, shrug and say that there is no probable cause and no need for the case to go to trial, what is she saying to the Black people of the county she serves?

Further, what does that say about the values of Davidson County? This is not even a question of whether or not the officer is guilty, but of whether or not he should even be put on trial. If the facts of the case aren’t enough to indicate probable cause, what does?

Granted, if the judge rules that there is not enough probable cause to proceed to trial, it does not necessarily mean the case is closed. Funk still has the authority to bypass Blackburn’s decision and take the case to a grand jury.

After all, Nashville has been inundated with extravagant claims of restorative justice practices and community policing and the passage of the Community Oversight Board proves there is a strong desire from the community to see even more accountability of the part of the police.

If the first-ever criminal charges against an MNPD officer never make it to trial, how can Nashville’s most vulnerable populations even be expected to maintain faith or trust in the justice system? And if the justice system won’t protect them, are they forced to protect themselves?

If following the death of an unarmed Black man, there is no probable cause is found to even begin the process of carrying out a trial, do Black lives matter in Nashville?

Or, is our justice system enabling a man with a gun—so long as he is equipped with a badge—be awarded open season on Black citizens and provided with immunity when he pulls the trigger?

Because this is the first time Nashville has encountered such a case, Monday’s decision creates huge implications not only for the Hambrick family but also establishes a precedent for how the justice system will handle every Black life in the city.

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