Chattanooga Police officers and protesters took a knee together during Monday night’s peaceful demonstration at Miller Park. Captain Jerri Sutton and Deputy Chief Danna Vaughn knelt with protest organizer Marie Mott after police and protesters had spent the better part of half an hour lined up across from one another.
“I’ve been in this job a long time, and I can’t say that I know how the African American community feels,” Ms. Vaughn said afterward, “but I understand their frustrations and cries for help, and I would like to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
Organizer Bria Stevens had previously spoken about a desire to engage in a dialogue with the police department. During the first act of the Miller Park protest, activists mingled among one another as law enforcement stood farther away and guarded the federal courthouse.
“Everyone out here is seated, eating snacks, and yet they have their bulletproof vests on,” said Ms. Stevens. “I would want to tell them that we pay their bills, so we’d like to communicate with them about their hiring processes, how they communicate with the community and how they interact with the community.”
Another speaker, known as Caleb the Poet, asked for the police’s “ears” to be receptive to what the protesters were speaking about.
“We’d like for them to implement the thing they’re listening to out here,” said Caleb. “We know that they hear us every time we come out here and take a stand. So we’d like for them to actually get through what they heard. So we can get to not a hate, not them versus us, but working together to make these streets, communities, and city safer.”
Until the two sides lined up across from one another in front of the courthouse, the proceedings were smooth aside from one incident. An unidentified white man began to play an audio recording of George Floyd’s death, whose passing is what has sparked protests across the nation.
“I would say that if we have any allies, we love everyone just the same,” said Ms. Stevens. “But we would like to respect the dead black and brown bodies to the highest degree. The fact that we can look at videos on Facebook before the police or before their own mothers is atrocious, and the fact that white men continue to play videos lets me know they are not conscious of our trauma.”
When an unidentified white woman and her friend were asked to share their opinion on the demonstration, they simply said “It’s not about us.”
Michael Davis, who was also at last night’s protest, said one desired outcome for the demonstrations is for them to be the impetus behind the creation of a checks and balances system for law enforcement. He also stressed the peaceful nature of the protest when given the microphone on on-stage at Miller Park, and later expanded upon what he said.
“We don’t tolerate people who come here and try to inflict harm or have a selfish agenda to loot or riot for their own selfish gain,” said Mr. Davis. “The Bible says there is a time for peace and a time for war, and a lot of times that gets taken out of context. A war that is fought for selfish intentions is a war that will never be won. This is the time for peace right now, and this is the time to see if the people who are in power who can make changes are going to listen to the peaceful aspect of this.”
On the governmental side of things, Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod was present throughout. Along with Miller Park guard and former police officer Nathan Cullom (who also took a knee with the other officers), she assisted in keeping affairs calm between protesters and the police.
“They don’t have to be out here because I know where they stand,” said Councilwoman Coonrod about the absence of any other council members or Mayor Berke. “I know where their hearts are, because I know they’re hurting just like everybody else here, and I know from their homes they’re in the protest. I know they’re thinking about ways to change things here in Chattanooga so we can be the model city for other cities.”
2021 mayoral candidate Monty Bruell took time to praise the general conduct of CPD during the last three days of protests, while criticizing Jim Hammond and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. HCSD drew the ire of some when they tear gassed protesters Sunday night.
“I think that the Chattanooga Police Department has exercised restraint,” said Mr. Bruell. “We may not agree with every action they’ve taken in the past, but I think that they have behaved in a professional manner. The Sheriff’s Department’s response, on the other hand, I think has been outrageous. They fired tear gas into a crowd and even gassed the CPD.”
After law enforcement and protesters took a knee, the group of protesters began to March down Lindsey Street into the city around 8:00 , where they split up into smaller groups. Before this occurred, a police officer was overheard saying “If this is all they want to do, then this is fine.”
When Ms. Mott and Caleb the Poet came back to Miller Park, they returned with only a fraction of the people they started with, with the smaller groups walking around the downtown Chattanooga for hours until everyone met back up in Miller Park after sunset.