The Culture Of Policing In Chattanooga - And Response (3)

  • Sunday, January 13, 2019

I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by Brenda Washington. Over the years, I have noticed that people tend to ignore or dismiss what she says, or attack her. This is unfortunate, because she is alerting people of the problems within the culture of policing in Chattanooga, whether it is in Hamilton County or the city of Chattanooga. There are good, honest police officers in Chattanooga, committed to protecting and serving all people. However, there are also officers who only serve themselves and view their role as one of aggression, especially targeted to communities of color and sometimes leading to death and assaults of unarmed citizens. There are two faces of policing.  Officers and their supervisors guilty of these unlawful actions are from all racial groups. I know this as a fact.

Paying people to recruit persons to enter the law enforcement academy may be a new strategy for Hamilton County and could result in more minority applicants, but not necessarily result in long-term success. A department with a trusted and supportive culture of community policing, would have no problem with recruitment of minorities, or any other persons best suited for those positions. Many qualified African Americans would be self-motivated to apply, especially considering that there is a Department of Criminal Justice (CJ) at the local university. At UTC, there is also a memorial scholarship in Leslie Prater’s name to help with tuition costs for CJ majors.

I know of two African Americans who resigned from the Chattanooga Police Department years ago, because they could not stomach the abusive culture. Research has reported that, for African American citizens, they may be treated more harshly by African American officers than white officers, especially in the presence of white officers.

Has Sheriff Hammond ever researched the question, ”Why qualified African Americans don’t want to work in his department.” Could it be that they disagree with his enforcement tactics as expressed publicly in 2012.  At a meeting of the Brainerd Kiwanis Club, he stated his position in dealing with suspected drug dealers. He said, “Run them out of town, put them in jail, or send them to the funeral home.” That seemed to be the green light for officers to pick the multiple choice item of their preference, as directed by their leader. Certainly, such a directive is not an example of community policing. I believe the last effective law enforcement leader in Chattanooga to understand community policing was the late Chief Ralph Cothran.  Research also reports that the culture of departmental policing is influenced by the leadership.

Dr. Loretta P. Prater

* * *

I don't see why anyone would want to be a law enforcement officer. With the rapid increase in drug and substance abuse, a continuing degradation of the profession and the lousy pay that comes with it, I don't think the career of law enforcement would entice anyone worthy of doing the job into filling out an application. 

Dr. Prater seems to prefer to write about her thoughts on law enforcement, but fails to see how doing so is making the career of policing more appealing to a smaller segment of society. That smaller segment of society is being reduced to bullies and our veterans. Our veterans are fine upstanding people, but we have to remember that they were first trained to kill, before being trained to police. Couple that with the federal government's supplying local police forces with surplus military gear and you begin to understand the Rise of the Warrior Cop. Worse yet are the others. The bullies are the wore type of cop. And they get the same surplus military gear that all the police get. When you look at which character traits would be attracted to a police force given today's rhetoric, it is no surprise that we get what we get: bullies and those who are "riflemen first."

Dr. Prater would like to dredge up a seven year old quote from Sheriff Hammond regarding drug dealers and then, in a round about way, attempt to make him and the rest of the sheriff's department appear to be racist. Well, Dr. Prater, you are the one who read "drug dealers" and heard "African Americans." Which one of you is making a presumption? Perhaps there is a mother out there that wishes a drug dealer were run out of town, incarcerated, or 6 feet under before their family member got hooked on drugs, or worse.

Dr. Prater, I would ask that you help attract the right candidates towards policing. We all could benefit from a huge influx of higher character LEOs, but it will not happen with this level of scrutiny. It will not happen in this environment. If a better leader is what is necessary, I would suggest Dr. Prater position herself to run against Sheriff Hammond in the next election cycle instead of sitting on the sidelines and criticizing those that do step into the ring to make a difference. 

Tim Giordano

* * *

Mr. Giordano is wrong about Dr. Prater in his attempt to rake her over the coals. Dr. Prater's son was brutally beaten to death in January 2004 by Chattanooga police. She made attempts to reach out and even offered to instruct classes on community policing and police interactions with citizens, Her efforts were rejected. She was mocked even. She's been welcomed at other police departments around the nation, but Chattanooga wanted none of her expertise.

The same year her son was brutally beaten to death another young man, an airman with the U.S. Air Force, home on a short weekend leave nearly met the same fate while innocently walking in the community he was born and grew up. That young airman was my son. I, too, attempted to make the police department aware of what some of its officers were doing on the streets in their interaction with primarily young African American men (I'd witnessed other similar brute police/citizen interactions). I, too, was mocked, laughed at, made fun of, called a liar, a cop hater (although I have family retired and active in policing), a race baiter, troublemaker, stalked, threatened, brushed off. All kinds of lies were told about my son as well. The same as in the case of Dr. Prater's son. There were lies. Lots of them told. 

May I suggest you take time to read Dr. Prater's book, "Excessive Use Of Force, One Mother's Struggle Against Police Brutality and Misconduct"?

Policing, not only in Chattanooga but around the nation, will have to reform itself. And that will only happen if they're honest enough to admit they have serious problems enough in need of reform. No outside entity is going to change their behavior. In fact, there's been periods that the more hothead, brutal and prone to use excessive force the more likely that individual was welcomed into the field of policing, because those were the types they wanted. Those were the types the profession attracted. They've even alluded to the fact that's what was required to become a cop. And guess what? For the most part those were the types cheered by many  citizens in the public. Community groups would often use their brute force and intimidating tactics to rid communities of fellow citizens they felt 'didn't belong'.
That's basically the reason my own son was stopped IWWB (innocently walking while black) and assaulted. Then the lies started to fly to cover-up their oops moment. This is why I previously suggested not only do police need oversight, but some community groups that often misuse police power and authority for selfish, and yes even racist intent, need close scrutiny and oversight too.  The excuse is they're just trying to make their communities 'safe'. In reality, they're having nostalgic moments for some bygone era that never should have existed anyway. Note: The recent headlines around the nation of white citizens calling on black citizens innocently going activities and the police responding in such a way as the white citizens are in the right and the black citizen must be up to no good isn't a new phenomenon. It's gone on for years, even in good old Chattanooga and the community I've lived for nearly forty years. The only difference is today it's now being caught on video and making national and international headlines. These people have no shame. They have no conscious. Neither do the police who respond on their behalf without the benefit of doubt. 

It's disgusting that our young men and women are sent to war to fight and die side by side for America's 'freedom', but in some areas of the U.S. a young airman home on leave couldn't even walk on the street he was born and grew up because of the color of his skin. That's the reality, Mr. Giordano. To ignore or wish away that reality is to admit the nation is nothing more than a shallow, big hypocrite when it comes to words of being a free nation and its actions when put to the test.

Blessed are the Dr. Praters of our land, and our world. They are the truest definition of what it means to be a 'hero'. In her case a 'shero'. They carry no weapons, except for their words, knowledge and humbleness. They know what it truly should mean to be free in a land that touts itself as a free and equal nation. 

Brenda Washington

* * *

I read over this opinion piece several times as well as the responses. I have to admit that I could not remember the details of Dr Prater's son's death. I googled around a bit and found an article published on in 2006. Here is a link to that article: 

Then I remembered the incident and the death of Dr Prater's son. I tried to imagine the situation in my mind. It is well worth reading the 2006 article.

Dr Prater's son's death was and is tragic, but there is much more to the story than what is presented in the current article. I also found another article written in 2016 which was written by Ms Washington and has a response by Dwight Prater, the husband of Dr Prater:

Two of the responses to Ms Washington's article were by myself and Ms April Edison. We were both trying to reach out to Ms. Washington. I did not receive a response. I do not know if Ms Edison was contacted. I still maintain (as I wrote in 2016), that I clearly feel the pain in these articles. I want to know more. I want to understand more.

Teddy Ladd
Understanding Diversity Goes Beyond Skin Color
  • 2/21/2024

Diversity goes beyond simply checking boxes. You will not hear that on TV or radio, though. It's about creating an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute ... more

Black History Is Inextricably Intertwined With American Legal History
  • 2/21/2024

February is Black History Month. In previous years, we have honored Black History Month by highlighting important African American legal figures, many of whom were the first in their respective ... more

Stadium Mayhem
  • 2/21/2024

Who will be tracking the costs of this project? People, the "math 'ain't mathing." This is too big of an investment for Chattanooga taxpayers to hear things like, "Oh my gosh, what have we ... more