Commissioner Mackey holds gun violence summit

Captain Jerry Sutton, Chattanooga Police Dept., and Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey address a crowded room of concerned citizens at the Kingdom Center. (Photo: Camm Ashford)
Audrey Ramsey holds up a picture of her brother Donald Ramsey, who was murdered  in Chattanooga by gun violence more than 30 years ago. “Today, I still grieve him,” Ms. Ramsey said.

Elected officials, the district attorney and Chattanooga police gathered Tuesday afternoon to hear community members discuss what they think the city can do to address the issue of gun violence.

District 4 Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey organized the “Stop the Violence” event, held at Olivet Baptist Church’s Kingdom Center, 740 East M.L. King Blvd.

The summit came in the wake of last month’s shootings on Grove Street which claimed the lives of two women–Labrecia Dews, 37, and Keniqua Hughes, 21. Jailen Wofford, 21, was also killed. Several others were left hospitalized or wounded.

Police still don’t know who was responsible for the shootings.

Commissioner Mackey said working in “systematic” ways to stop Chattanooga violence needs to be a group effort.

“This is about hearing the issues facing the Black community, and working toward solutions to putting an end to the violence,” he explained. “We need the community’s voice to tell us what they need and how we can help them.”

Speakers suggested conventional ideas such as mentoring and PE (positive exposure), more parental engagement, 24-7 social services and additional investment in “boots on the ground,” among others.

A few controversial ideas put forth included saturating the city with flyers and posters depicting the Ten Commandments, and tightening the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) and capital punishment laws aimed at gang members.

Chattanooga Police Department Capt. Jerri Sutton said cooperation from the community is essential. 

“We understand wholeheartedly that there is hesitation or fear of what life may be after they come forward,” she said. “But we need to come together collectively to have a voice against those who seek to victimize everyone in their area and every other area around town, who are under siege by just a few.”

Chattanooga Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers said the solution isn’t a one-time effort.

“You can’t have a meeting and do nothing,” he warned. “That means a systematic plan from kindergarten until they graduate. There’s no kids that wake up one morning and says, ‘I’m going to blow your brains out.’ These are things that happen when they’re in elementary school.”

District 9 Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, who is raising her 6-year-old granddaughter and who witnessed her father’s death by gun violence, said “impoverished mindsets” and government programs aren’t working.

“We’ve had enough of placing blame,” she said. “This is bigger than government. Let’s talk about the parents. Where the parents at, where the fathers at? If we want to talk about real solutions, let’s talk about stop making kids before you’re able to take care of them.”

Around 150 people attended the summit, and several comminity members shared their own experiences with gun violence and the local police force.

“This is my brother Donald Cornelius Ramsey murdered over 30 years ago, and today I still grieve him,” said Chattanooga resident Audrey Ramsey, as she held up a framed picture of her brother.

Also speaking were Jason Holmes, Joe Hunter, Allen Jones, Deborah Maddox, Pastor Chris Sands, Glenn Scruggs, Trey Suttles and Eric Tucker.

Before concluding the meeting, Commissioner Mackey pressed Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger to pledge his support to combat gun violence.

“Can we count on you and get your word that you’re going to work with us and help us address the violence in the Black community?” Commissioner Mackey asked.

“Certainly, absolutely,” Mayor Coppinger answered.

A follow-up event will take place on Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. Commissioner Mackey will announce additional details in the coming weeks.

Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey (left) greets members of Moc Valley Prep, a local mentorship basketball program.