Kevin Muhammad Says City Programs Failing; More Attention And Funding Needed For Impoverished Inner City Youths

  • Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Nation of Islam leader Kevin Muhammad told a packed house at City Council on Tuesday night that a large segment of Chattanooga is impoverished, while parts of the city are enjoying a Renaissance.

Given 20 minutes for a "State of the People" address, he said many city programs are failing, including the Violence Reduction Initiative and a Youth and Family Services reading program.

He hit increased funding for public safety, mass incarcerations, PILOT tax abatement programs for wealthy developers and a plan by Mayor Andy Berke for $1 million to position cameras around the city.

He told council members, "You can no longer rubberstamp the mayor's budget. We have not gotten the right outcomes."

The minister, in response to a question from Councilman Yusuf Hakeem, told council members that "if you do not take heed, I hope new people are sitting in all your seats."

He said council members "have sided with the rich and powerful people. The city leaders must atone for their sins. You must admit that you messed up. You guys are making too many deals in backrooms that don't benefit the people. There's a day coming that you are going to have to pay for what you are doing to the people."

Bro. Muhammad pictured a city with large sections of dire poverty in opposition to some people enjoying plenty.

He said the mayor had pointed to 184 jobs for reformed gang members, but he said those were temporary jobs lasting only a few months and without benefits.

He proposed that the city use the $1 million planned for cameras instead to help boost and give hope to impoverished youth who are "living in the dark ages." He recommended that the River City Company also pitch in $1 million for the "People's Youth Institute" along with Volkswagen and other large companies that he said have gotten generous tax forgiveness from the city.

Bro. Muhammad also recommended setting up a program to help those returning from prison to get back on their feet.

He told the council members, "We cannot police our way out of this situation." He said some sections of Chattanooga were as policed as "the occupied armies of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya."

The speaker said, "We can find money for bike lanes, but we can't find money to restore the lives of these young men."

He said the consultant for the VRI "has taken our money and failed us." He said those in the inner city "would rather go to jail" than "snitch."

He said former Sheriff Billy Long "sold cocaine and he's out of jail." He said many blacks had gone to jail for much longer periods for drug distribution.

Bro. Muhammad said, "They want us to snitch, but they won't do nothing to the bad cops."

He said a focus ought to be on "building strong families and safe neighborhoods." 

Currently, he said, "There are young people hanging out at street corners who went to high school and college and have degrees and still can't get jobs."

He said the staffs at the recreation centers need to be beefed up and given more support. He said the centers again need to be used "for good, clean competition."

Councilman Hakeem said it was beneficial for the council to hear the special presentation, and he said it may have an effect at the upcoming budget sessions.

He said, "We will know in due time what will be the response. I think we may be looking at the budget in a way we have not done before."

He challenged those in the audience to each do his/her part to aid disadvantage youth and improve their neighborhoods.

Councilman Hakeem said of the council, "We don't see the police as the enemy. When we have a problem, it's the police we call."

He recommended the citizens to "get to know the police officers in your neighborhood."

Councilman Chip Henderson called for "everybody in this room to become a mentor to young people and invest some of your time. That won't cost a dime." 

He challenged those in the audience to each do their part to mentor disadvantage youth and improve their neighborhoods.

Councilman Ken Smith, who had suggested the special presentation, said it is "critically important that we hear from everybody."

A resident of North Chamberlain said the wealthy are getting big tax breaks "and we can't get a grocery store in East Chattanooga."

Khristy Wilkinson of Highland Park said, "My black friends are being harassed by the police. Why are we funding the police as if they are our hope for a better tomorrow."

Diante Jackson of One Nation Family said the cameras around town "are a terrible idea." He said inner city youth "have nothing to do and don't have a fighting chance."

Katherine Cordell of We the People said, "Stop the mass incarceration and stop the war on drugs."

Cynthia Stanley Cash said there had not been a gang shooting since Kevin Muhammad first addressed the council last week.

Charlotte Williams, a local minister, said her son has dreads "and is harassed and brutalized by the police."

She said, "Putting black faces into blue uniforms will not change anything."

One woman said Mayor Berke had been invited to the Muhammad talk.

She said, "Do you see him? Andy, are you here?"
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