Moses Freeman, in his first City Council meeting as chairman, told local Nation of Islam leader Kevin Muhammad he could not make a special presentation to the council as a rebuttal to Mayor Andy Berke's State of the City address. However, he relented after other council members said they wanted to hear from him and a coalition who said they are in touch with local gang members.
Bro. Muhammad said he and a group of associates went to the mayor's speech and they wanted to present "the other Chattanooga."
He asked to make a 15-20-minute presentation.
Chairman Freeman responded, "We don't give the mayor that audience and we're not going to give it to you."
Bro. Muhammad asked, "You're denying the request?"
Chairman Freeman said, "Yes, I am. I'm denying it. Yes."
Bro. Muhammad said, "I wish you the best. Peace."
Cynthia Stanley Cash, a community activist, said the denial was "very disappointing." She said, "We are living in fear," and said that local Islam leaders are in touch with gang members.
She said, "We don't have the nerve to go into the hood and talk to them. But they do."
Ms. Cash said, "Please reconsider and please don't let it be personal."
Ash-lee Woodard Henderson, a leader of Concerned Citizens for Justice, said the chairman had made a gross misstep. She said the group that includes Bro. Muhammad "is seeing a different Chattanooga that is not in alignment with what we heard in the State of the City."
She said to the council members, "Those are not your seats. They're our seats."
Councilman Ken Smith recommended that the council grant the request, saying he was anxious to hear what the group had to say "whether we agree with them or we don't."
He added, "He does represent citizens in our community and I think it is our duty to sit here until they are due."
Councilman Yusuf Hakeem asked if the council was "doing ourselves a disservice to not hear what the citizens have to say."
He said that was especially true given "the pent-up frustration and the violence we have been experiencing."
Chairman Freeman then said, when council members make such a request, it should be honored. He said Bro. Muhammad would have time on the agenda.
He also said, when Kevin Muhammad had asked to meet with him in the past, he had always gone to see what he had to say.
Councilwoman Carol Berz asked if Bro. Muhammad had provided his information to the police department.
He replied, "I do not go where I am not invited." But he said he would meet with the police chief if invited.
However, he said the mayor would need to be present. He said his rank is in line with that of the mayor, and he said he has a captain who is the rank of the police chief.
He said, "The person I speak to is the mayor. My captain speaks to the police chief, not me."
Kevin Muhammad said the block where he and others of his adherents live "is the safest in the city. There is no smoking and no drinking. There is no cussing. There are no pants sagging."
William Muhammad told the council that "the police don't talk to us."
He said he has a Gangster Disciple as well as a Crip living across from him. He said a Blood is just down the street.
The speaker said the police "don't get out of their cars." He said in a recent incident there were two shootings going on near his home - one after the other. He said when the second shooting started officers took off on a roundabout route. In the meantime, he said the shooters were coming through his yard." He claimed police do not know the neighborhoods and the routes.
William Muhammad said the police "don't walk the streets. They are really not trying to stop the madness."
He said if the city leaders took the stance of "calling in the National Guard" then God will destroy Chattanooga."
He said of the council, "You won't talk to us. You disrespected this man."
The appearance by Kevin Muhammad is set for next Tuesday near the end of the meeting. Chairman Freeman said he will be given 20 minutes to speak.