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Memphis debate gives Dean, Lee platform to pitch positions on gun violence, officer-involved shootings

The candidates for governor differ on whether the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation should probe all police-involved shootings as has been advocated after last month’s shooting of Martavious Banks by a Memphis Police Department officer.

Democratic Party nominee Karl Dean and Republican Party standard-bearer Bill Lee faced off in a televised debate held at the Michael D. Rose Theater at the University of Memphis Tuesday night as they compete to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in the Nov. 6 general election. Early voting begins Oct. 17.

Dean, former Nashville mayor, said he supports bringing in the TBI in all officer-involved shootings as a way of “helping public confidence” in law enforcement. Lee, a Williamson County businessman, disagreed, saying “…I don’t think they (the TBI) should be called in automatically. In the situation of the death of one of the parties then the TBI should be called in.”

WMC Action News 5’s co-anchors Joe Birch and Kontji Anthony, as well as David Waters of The Commercial Appeal, were moderators of the event.

The hour-long debate covered a wide range of issues, including healthcare, gun violence, education and economic development and the tone of political discourse. Afterward, the two candidates exited the theater and took questions from the media in an adjoining room.

Dean said there are situations where a TBI investigation would help in police shootings not involving the death of a citizen.

“I think in general that’s a good idea,” he said. “I don’t think one department should investigate itself. Bring another police resource into it…I think it would help public confidence.”

Earlier in the debate, Dean spoke of a need to strive for transparency and to make sure that everyone is subject to the law and that the law will be followed.

“I think that is what people are looking for,” he said. “…That discussion is an important one and needs to move forward.”

Lee said, “What I fundamentally believe is that you have to do a better job of bringing together law enforcement that are laying their lives on the line every single day and the communities that they serve that develop a level of mistrust because of incidents that create that.”

Asked what the state’s role is in reducing gun-related violence and crimes involving firearms, Lee said, “…We have to develop a system that is tough on crime and smart on crime at the same time.

“That means we need to address the most egregious criminals in a profoundly serious way and at the same time look seriously at how we intake and re-enter folks, if we really want to reduce the crime rate.”

Dean said Tennessee is a state that is strongly supportive of the Second Amendment, “…but I think there are limits on it.

“…What I think is a good starting place to begin a discussion about how we respond to gun violence, particularly mass shootings, is to say shouldn’t we be working to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people,” he asked. “Can’t we agree that people with criminal records, people who have committed domestic violence, who have made threats, who may suffer from mental illnesses, should not have access to guns?

“That’s not taking guns away from people. That’s keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people and that’s common sense.”

In closing remarks, Dean said his main concerns are education, healthcare and economic opportunity.

“I’m running for governor because I believe the state wants a pragmatic, common sense sort of get it done person to be the governor,” he said. “I have the training where I’ve been the mayor of a major city, I’ve been the law director, the public defender for 15, 16 years, I know how the state works.”

Lee said he recently met a man in a coffee shop in rural Tennessee and introduced himself. The man said, “I know who you are, I just voted for you.

“…It was a humbling experience, people are walking into voting booths all across this state and they are putting their confidence in me,” he said. “I take that very seriously…I don’t ever want to disappoint that man…”

The debate was sponsored by The Commercial Appeal and the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee, WMC Action News 5, the University of Memphis and the League of Women voters and the Economic Club of Memphis.


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