The Community Haven was anything but serene during Friday’s rally against police brutality and systemic racism. Originally planned to take place in Miller Park, the event had to change venues after the city strongly advised the group of Chattanoogans and Atlantans to stay away off any city property.
“We’re glad that we’re at the community haven and feel welcome here with brother Muhammad and his crew here,” said one speaker. “We are here because of the “Good Trouble Freedom Ride.” We will not be deterred or dismantled, and we will go on in the pursuit of justice.”
Protest leaders said the city cited COVID-19 as the reason the large gathering was being heavily discouraged, as three buses with people from Atlanta were to make a stop in the Scenic City as part of the “Good Trouble Ride,” which honored the late Rep.
John Lewis. “However, Rev. Timothy Careathers was unconvinced by this explanation.
“We all know that camouflaged in this rhetoric, that seems to have concern for our community, is a letter from the city strongly discouraging this gathering today,” Rev. Careathers said. “A city that continues to gentrify neighborhoods like the one I pastor in, where average income is well below the poverty rate. The same city that has a racist sheriff’s department that has terrorized black people, women, and the poor community with impunity, and mysteriously loses 15 months of dashcam footage. But all of a sudden are concerned for our health and safety.”
Marie Mott, the most visible leader of the “I Can’t Breathe Chattanooga” movement, took the microphone several times during the rally. She too railed against the city for not allowing the protesters to use the public space of Miller Park, while also critiquing local law enforcement.
“We ain’t here to be nice. How are we going to be nice, when we pay for places to be able to gather, and we are told we can’t do that because we are fighting injustice,” Ms. Mott asked. “How can we be peaceable if we see video after video of black men and women, white men and women, latinx men and women, be racially profiled and pulled over to the side of the road, be beaten for walking while black or being baptized in freezing water by a sheriff’s deputy?”
Among those in attendance from the Peach State was Georgia House Rep. David Dreyer, who had travelled with the caravan from Atlanta to Louisville to Chattanooga. He said the United States has changed immensely since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the anthem in 2016.
“I know change is coming, and we are walking shoulder to shoulder,” Rep. Dreyer said. “Y’all are making change on the ground, and it’s a big damn project to break systems of oppression, isn’t it? We’re not stopping until we break these systems of white supremacy.”
Gerald Griggs of the Georgia NAACP was also in attendance, blasted current political leaders by saying “If they can’t put real policy in place that holds racist police officers accountable, and can’t support families that have been victims of police brutality, they have to go.”
“It’s on us to get in good trouble, to speak truth to power, to get justice for every single family throughout the United States. Some of us are going to have to go to jail, some of us are going to have to go to the mayor’s, governor’s and state’s house, because we demand justice now.”
The woman Marie Mott proclaimed as “the people’s pastor,” Charlotte S.N.N Williams, also had a chance to address the crowd of around 200. She praised Kevin Muhammad for helping to create the same community haven the rally was now taking place in, saying that the leaders of the city have “demonized” Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.
“I want you to know that in the spirit of Assata Shakur, never let your enemies tell you who your enemies are,” said Rev. Williams. “This should be a wakeup call for all of us, that we should have our own. This community haven is our own.”
Dotted around the field were vendors under tents. Among them was Megan Ruiz, who is part of HeadCount, which helps people register to vote. Ms. Mott and the movement have stressed voting as an extremely effective way of making change occur in the community.
“I like to go on social media and we do everything we can to make sure our friends go vote, since we’re part of the younger generation,” said Ms. Ruiz. “I think that it’s necessary to get your voice out there and be heard [through your vote].”
While many speakers gave passionate speeches to the crowd, Marie Mott’s words seemed to encapsulate the overall message of the rally.
“We don’t need any overseers in our community. We need to control our own economics, and take power back over our own education. Because if you can’t read, you’re a slave. We need to teach our children what it means to fight and get into the struggle.”
“We’ve got to learn how to turn over tables and drive the evil out of our buildings,” said Ms. Mott. “If we are silent about these things, we are complicit and have blood on our hands. And we have enough blood crying out from the soil. It is time for us to demand equity, liberation, and love and justice for all people, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like, or how much money they make. Last time we checked, we are all human beings.”