Angry residents of Chattanooga bombard city council members Tuesday with demands that the city police department’s $70 million budget be cut by F$45 million or zeroed out in the interest of public welfare.
Zoom caller Nicky Costello tells the nine members the budget on the table is “a venomous act” that needs a rewrite. He is one of more than 200 people who take two minutes or less to demand a heart-change in city government.
The council meeting takes place disembodied — on Zoom software, with hundreds of residents on laptops at home looking at checkerboard screens holding faces of city council members who hear them from their microphones. The meeting has a limit of 500, which choked out many. Others registered to speak are passed over when they can’t find the speak button or don’t quickly pipe up when tapped.
The outrage and demands have two parts: Defund or abolish the Chattanooga police department, and take the money for works of charity, mercy and education.
No speaker urges that the money be returned to taxpayers or that levies in the heavily taxed municipality be reduced. The default position of the protesters is that once taxed, funds should be disbursed by an arm of commercial government separate from the policing racket which today falls under public odium. While objecting to the jagged teeth of collectivism that are police, they insist on the munificence of Caesar and count themselves — as do his armed troops — among the dependents in his household.
The protesters see police as existing “basically only to punish and to bring people into the carceral state system,” as Peter Souli puts it, and want the city legislative branch to consider “rebalancing the city budget away from the police,” as speaker Steve McDonald says.
The anger over the slaying of George Floyd 15 days prior brings universal condemnation of policing across the U.S., with speakers giving particulars about abuses here.
➤ Gabrielle Chevallier, who works in the nonprofit sector, says she is on crutches because she was hurt Friday when a car lurched through the crowd on Carter Street whose members, she said, were trying to redirect traffic. “The many officers who watched that man barrel through a crowd of people *** is frankly abhorrent to me. The officers paused him. They spoke with him, and they let him go after a man was literally over the hood of his car. If our officers are not here to arrest a hit-and-run driver in plain sight, why are we funding them with the majority of our funding?”
➤ “Ya’ll know where I live because the police have been circling our house for the past 10 days,” says Nathan King, who declines to give his address as per council rules.
➤ Shea Brill is shocked police are used for social engineering and human management. “Now on the day of Riverbend police will pick up homeless folks so that the tourists won’t have to interact with them,” she tells city council. “They will charge them with something like loitering or public intox, keep them for a week, and then release them. I coworker and I found this story deeply disturbing.”
➤ Landon Howard demands divestment and recalls a notorious slaying. “Social problems can’t be solved by the police,” as in the case of the 911 call from hell by Javario Eagle, who during a mental episode was gunned down December 2015 by a barrage in blue. “He’s dead now. It’s because he should have had a medical team — counseling team, social workers — responding to what happened. If we continue to overinvest in police, this stuff is going to continue to happen.”
➤ Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams, protest leader, doesn’t want to give his full address “because I’ve been harassed by the police before.”
Council has power, record of deafness
City council has reason to unplug its ears to appeal for reform. This reporter on Feb. 20, 2018, put city under an administrative notice regarding CPD’s abuse of the state trucking, shipping, hauling and transportation law against people on the roads who are not involved in trucking, shipping, hauling and transportation. He made demands to the council orally, and argued the law with Phil Noblett, city attorney, who claims the reporter hasn’t supplied enough information to the city in a 20-page legal notice outlining the people’s rights and the disability in state law, and perhaps hasn’t written enough on this website or talked enough about the problem on his two-hour weekday news show at 1 p.m. on NoogaRadio 92.7 FM.
Council, if anything, merely had its ears tickled by the novelty of a journalist’s legal reproof, and does not take seriously the intent of that project to end illegal arrest under the traffic law. Nor does it seem keen to stop detailed legal reporting of abuse of a separate statute that its agents ignore, Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-7-103, arrest by officer without warrant. Due process violations are so prevalent this writer put the city under administrative notice April 15, opening the city for plaintiff-enriching litigation when time comes.
Today thousands of people are openly and noisily aggrieved by police abuse as outlined as a matter of law. Dozens of people upbraid the council and plead with the nine men and women to open their eyes and wield their power justly on tax dollar flow levers.
Mr. King says council often breezes through its agenda. “Well, this list of people who are calling tonight is not one of those little lists that you can breeze through as you are so accustomed to doing.” He says the council should give a minute for the Zoom buttons to work, as many people on the list are passed over, perhaps for technical reason or lack of knowledge of software.
The Westside rec center is F$125,000 or the whole center, with salaries at 70,000, less than the “police get for ammunition alone, that is immoral. And what you invest in there’s fruit, council.” There are 500 people on the call, Mr. King says, and council has a duty to listen.
Law enforcement vs. mental illness
The simplicity of the prose is sometimes startling.
“No one should be arrested because they don’t have a house or because they have a mental illness,” says Sarah Kantor. “Everyone should have easy access to transportation to get to work, to get back home to their families, and to enjoy all the attractions of Chattanooga.”
Several speakers upbraid the council for seeming indifference.
“We have these systemic and chronic issues,” says Emily Barton. “And if you want to be on the council, you should want to solve these issues. And if you don’t want to solve these issues — then why are you there? Ask yourself — why are you there?”
There’s more use in burning a pile of cash to warm oneself on a cold night than spending it on policing, James Pickard suggests.
“The police in our city have been the sole source of provocation, utilizing tear gas, concussion grenades, drones, shields, batons, menacing children. These are children out here. They are unbelievably young. These are rogue actions that need to be brought under control. It would have been better served if this money had been thrown into the trash can than to have been spent this way. We need to invest in YFD, healthcare, CARTA, other necessary services. Jerry Mitchell — we are looking at you. I am looking at you right now.”
Some of the cash siphoned from police should go to CARTA, protest leader Williams says. “It takes people two busses and two to three hours to get to work if you gotta go across town, and that is a disgrace.”
Diplomatically, Mr. Williams offers a compliment. “Many of you on the council are great people and would like to see these good things happen in our community. We the people put blood sweat and tears walking on many of your campaigns, and election time is coming up. How do you want to be remembered?”
Care for officers’ well-being
Kaelin Hoch says she is a white privileged person who works in nonprofit group, of which the city has 1,000. Why so many nonprofits? That’s indicative, she says, of too little being spent by government in its neglect of blacks and the poor. “We are here to keep you as city council accountable.”
Another to care about officers’ jobs is Christopher Miller. “The police will be more effective if their role is specified. I think they might appreciate not having to do work that they are not effective at.”
Jinny Jagoditsch is a longtime teacher and suggests blessings when “giving a child something to do, something positive to do, can change their lives and make them a wonderful adult. I want us to invest not only in that in our community, but in the people who don’t have homes and who don’t have anywhere to go. I just — sorry. I’m getting choked up and I didn’t think I would,” she says.
She says the cut would be at least 50 percent of cop money and “put it back in our community, specifically our black, brown and poor communities” via after-school programs and homeless programs.
She says mental health programs should include officers “so they don’t get burned out, so they don’t get trigger happy, so they aren’t scared of the people they are trying to protect.”
As of 9 p.m. the council indicates there were 357 attendees, with 160 left at 8:50. At 11 p.m. the line of voices continues, mostly Caucasian.
Dr. Berz is unfamiliar with the name “C-Grimey” when it comes across the screen, suggesting she has not paid attention to the video feeds of the protests and Mr. Williams’ role.