City council gets an earful of discontent Tuesday focusing on police abuse and the connection between poverty, harassment and the paltry capitalization in some city districts. A former gang member and city councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod shout back and forth, and an activist with a booming voice preaches to listeners directly rather than through her 11 a.m. radio airwave pulpit.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
The arguments of at least four people addressing the council are for reform of policing and a lamentation about the hard lives of many black people, some of whom are being pushed out of their dwellings by stiffer monthly rents and rising land values from development.
Isaiah Moore is a former gang member, repentant and now married, who is looking for capital to start a food truck business. He disputes councilwoman Coonrod’s effort to defuse his arguments against police by saying he should be concerned about black citizen-on-black citizen crime.
“Hold on! Hold on!” Mr. Moore says. “You are putting more money into security for these public housing projects — cameras, gates, you ain’t putting nothing in the inner city communities for nothing for nobody to do. There are no opportunities. *** How can you say something like that, ‘We are going to talk about black-on-black crime,’ right? But put something in the communities for these kids to do when they get older. Put some more positive mentors and role models around them so they can do better,” Mr. Moore says.
Much of what he proposes seems more apt a field of labor for the church diaconate than for a municipal administration; yet his lamentation is heartfelt and earnest.
Mott promises change
Marie Mott says she’d brought Mr. Moore to speak to the city council, though she had expected councilwoman Coonrod to have done so, as evidently both women know Mr. Moore.
“I’m encouraging young people to get involved in the process,” says Miss Mott, 30. “And I take my own time, and my own gas in my own energy and I don’t want any pats on the back for that. Because I don’t get paid to do anything like that, reaching out to my community, I don’t get to paid to do that. I don’t get paid with tax dollars to do that.”
The talk show host at 11 a.m. at 92.7 NoogaRadio is just getting warmed up.
“I’m a product of chattel slavery,” she roars, “I am a product of chattel slavery. That’s why I will not compromise in what I expect and I will not compromise with my leaders and I will not compromise. Maybe we have gotten into this situation that we’re in — being the 7th worst-run municipality — because of compromise. Because we have people who are far too afraid of being black” — and here Miss Mont raps her chest — “being black not only on the outside, but being black on the inside.”
She says that everything she does in the system is “an insurrection. I don’t just love that, I relish that. That everything I stand for and that everything I say is an insurrection and if I’m doing it for the best interest of my people it’s going to rub a lot of people the wrong way.” Her themes are informed by a mix of libertarianism, constitutionalism and race angst inspired by progressives.
Miss Mott, a preacher’s daughter, condemns a city that trains police officers for routine acts of violence with department brass and city council people speaking about cop outbreaks of it as if they had occurred on a remote planet news from which is filtered through two or three dimensions. Her parents grew up working class and faced redlining, forced to live in the city by U.S.-inspired bank lending practices and from a people now facing the loss of their rental homes as development pushes up the price of land for higher uses than black families.
Miss Mott says Mayor Andy Berke is AWOL for never showing up at city council meetings, and that if he comes he should sit at the very center of the group, in the spot occupied now by Phil Noblett, city attorney.
Miss Mott misunderstands the division of power in American government, and in her eagerness for action does not perceive that Mr. Berke’s regular presence in the city’s legislative chamber would quickly be seen as meddlesome and overbearing. The mayor — contrary to her assertion — is not a member of city council, but head of the executive branch, executing the will of the legislative branch and existing ordinances. But his honoring the spheres of power rule, to Miss Mott, makes him a mere political opportunist unconcerned about problems in the city.
She ridicules the city council’s opening prayers and says members reject godliness in their lax oversight of doings in the city. “You want to talk about a work of God? You don’t know him. You want to talk about the constitution? You don’t know it. You don’t know it. You don’t know it. ***You’d better believe that I am working, I am working, everyday I am working and when the tide of change comes, you are going to be [swept] up” in it. The mayor is in office two more years.
Miss Mott perhaps overestimates the authority of city government to control market processes such as gentrification, which is the buying and selling of properties and the slow elevation in valuations arising from loving care of properties, with the poor pushed out as higher uses for a block come into view. She is aggrieved by what the market does, and blames city council.
But on other occasions Miss Mott has rightly fingered the source of the dislocation problem at the feet of zoning per se and land-use controls by city government and other groups — the absence of a free market and a decentralized open property sale sector.
Henderson pro-police; Byrd urges meetings
Council member Chip Henderson is in charge of the council’s safety committee, with ostensible oversight of police. “I keep hearing the word justice a lot. They keep using the word justice a lot,” he says afterward.
Mr. Henderson speaks of the Avery Gray daughter arrest as if were a report from a yellowed press clipping from another country, and his recounting of the June incident suggests his sympathies are with police. One week prior, Mr. Henderson had heard firsthand the story of the girl’s abduction by Officer Wright and her having been injured and criminally charged during a noisesome peace-breaching auto / motor vehicle repossession downtown.
“They’re specifically referencing an incident that happened with the Chattanooga police and a 14-year-old that was behind the wheel of a running vehicle. I have looked at the video of the vest cam and have probably a different view than they hold. But I would still reserve judgment until the internal investigation is completed.”
Council member Anthony Byrd proposes conciliatory private meetings with people such as Miss Mott, of which she has said she will have none. “I would like to sit down with those people and have a conversation. I have not set down with neither [Mr. Moore nor Miss Mott] today, and so I think we can make progress and we can address a lot of the situation. We need to sit down and organize together. We’re working with them, and them with us. We can fix a lot of these situations, but we have to sit down and we have to organize. It’s not going to happen here screaming at each other. *** They want accountability, they want justice, like we all do.”
I ask Mr. Henderson which police manuals should be reviewed: Use of force? Arrest procedure? “Well, I think what their issue is here tonight is swirling around use of force, I think. You mentioned the word, ‘de-escalation.’ I know I’ve heard, we’ve heard — several times from different police chiefs — Chief [Eric] Tucker, others — and that’s the first line that they use. De-escalation. Try to talk ‘em down. And then they’ve got a step-by-step process that they use.”
A survey cited by reformer Chuck Wexler in 30 Guiding Principles for Policing indicates that “while agencies spend a median of 58 hours of recruit training on firearms and another 49 hours on defensive tactics (much of it state mandated), they spend only about 8 hours of recruit training each on the topics of de-escalation, crisis intervention, and Electronic Control Weapons.” A reporter this data to Mr. Henderson, who sides with the officer and his needs.
“My guess would be that by the time it gets to that point when you having to physically constrain somebody, it’s a much more dangerous situation, not only for the officer but for the subject involved. I would think more training would be dedicated to that in order to assure safety of both parties,” Mr. Henderson says.
On Sunday sheriff’s department deputies tasered a man to death who cried in agony and begged the deputies to stop electrocuting him. What about this use of sublethal force originally intended to save an officer from having to use bullets to subdue an attacker?
“I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be reviewed,” Mr. Henderson says. He gives priority to the policeman. “But then, again, when you’ve gotten to the point that you need to tase somebody, when a police officer feels like they need to tase somebody, then, then I respect the life of that police officer as well, in order to protect himself. I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be reviewed, but we need to take a look at that.”