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Amid controversy, Gideon's Army renews push for taxpayer funding for violence interruption efforts

Mayor's advisory board asks no questions about controversies surrounding group
Posted: 9:17 PM, Sep 12, 2022
Updated: 2022-09-13 07:44:00-04
Rasheedat Fetuga.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — More than a year after the Metro Council set aside $1 million to make North Nashville a safer place to live, a city board is moving closer to a recommendation on how that money should be spent.

That board heard Monday night from Gideon's Army, a sometimes controversial group that had one employee killed last year in a shootout that police believe he started and another who was sent to federal prison on firearms charges.

Still, members of that board, appointed by Mayor John Cooper, did not ask a single question about any of the controversies surrounding Gideon's Army.

Rasheedat Fetuga, founder and CEO of the non-violence group, began her presentation with photos of young people who have died in North Nashville.

"These are the children and the lives that inform this work," said Fetuga, at one point choking back tears.

Gideon's Army has been at the forefront of efforts to interrupt violence in the Cumberland View housing development in North Nashville.

"We have four violence interrupters covering all of the North Nashville community the absolute best that they can," Fetuga continued. "We don't have enough people where they can actually take off and take a day and then there are still people out there."

Gideon's Army convinced the Metro Council last year to appropriate a million dollars for violence prevention — money the group hoped to get all to itself.

But, after NewsChannel 5 Investigates uncovered evidence of violence in the neighborhood during a period when Gideon's Army had claimed there was no violence, a board appointed by Mayor John Cooper decided to set up a North Nashville pilot project.

Gideon's Army is one of three nonprofit organizations now competing for grants. The other two are Raphah Institute and Why We Can't Wait Inc.

Under the current plan, two groups would get two-year grants of $750,000 each to see what works.

Cooper's community safety coordinator Ron Johnson said the board is trying to implement best practices for keeping our communities safe.

"The health department are the ones that are going to lead and guide all of this. I think that is a great opportunity for everyone to learn," Johnson said.

Last year, a shootout in North Nashville left Gideon's Army employee Cleveland Shaw dead.

A just-released police report said that, on Shaw's phone, "there was an abundance of drug-related communication – so much so, it’s apparent Cleveland was a high-level drug dealer in Nashville, more specifically in the Cumberland View Apartments.”

A NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that, after Shaw began working with Gideon's Army, he was named as a suspect in several shootings.

Surveillance video also showed him running through the neighborhood with an assault weapon during another shooting after he went on the group's payroll.

Fetuga appeared to be addressing such controversies in her presentation.

"I really think that the city, communities, the media needs to understand the complexities that our people face and also that people should be able to have an opportunity to be redeemed and that sometimes that takes time," she told the board.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates also discovered that Gideon's Army staff had celebrated neighbors blocking police who had come into the community to arrest another of the group's employees on federal firearms charges. Those charges stemmed from his role in a neighborhood shootout.

Video also show a Gideon's Army leader mocking police as being "KKK."

"With Metro Nashville police," Fetuga told the board, "it is a false narrative that Gideon's Army does not get along with the police."

Ron Johnson said he could not comment on what had happened in the past.

"Going forward," he continued, "everyone will be held accountable for what they do — I don't care who you are, including me. And we all should be."

The mayor's advisory group will make its recommendations in the coming weeks on who should get the money, but the final decision will rest with the Metro Council.

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NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Gideon's Army