After weeks of demonstrations, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke on Monday afternoon unveiled a plan to answer the demands from protesters to move money away from Chattanooga’s Police Department.
In response, activists held a “people’s” press conference at the Community Haven in Alton Park in order to denounce the mayor’s proposal to move $150,000 from the police budget to a new “Office of Community Resilience” (OCR).
“It’s crumbs of crumbs,” Marie R. Mott, community activist and City Council District 8 candidate, said of the mayor’s plan. “The police budget is so robust. The $150,000 is really a slap to our face for what we have organized for the past 13 going on 14 days.”
Chattanooga’s calls to address systemic racism and injustice and demands to “defund the police” are part of a worldwide movement of civil unrest in response to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed and handcuffed black man who was killed by white police during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25.
Local protest organizer Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams labeled the mayor’s plan to move money away from the police department and reallocate some of those funds into social programs as “lackluster,” but a “baby step” in the right direction.
“City Council members and Mayor Berke aren’t taking this seriously,” Williams said.
Mott and Williams called for a “participatory budgeting” process where activists and average citizens can “have a seat at the table” in order to collaborate with elected leaders as they determine community needs and allocate money in yearly budgets to fund police departments.
“I have done my best to listen–to activists, advocates, and allies in the Movement for Black Lives, to members of our law enforcement community, to national experts, and to people in our city who are worried about the future and know that change has to come,” Mayor Berke said during a virtual press conference Monday. “As a city of creators, Chattanoogans owe it to ourselves to create a new vision for justice, public safety and real resilience that includes all of our residents.”
Berke said his new OCR will have several functions, including social work, recidivism reduction, support for youth, neighborhood-based planning, and independent budget analysis and policy recommendations on municipal government expenditures related to public safety and law enforcement.
“The Office of Community Resilience will be a resource within local government for helping communities heal from trauma and minimize their contact with the criminal justice system,” he explained. “This solution allows us to continue to keep operations at the level that is necessary for our community while also thinking through how we, over time, transfer some of the non-criminal things that the police have to deal with to another way to handle it.”
The Office of Community Resilience will combine some of the existing functions of the Office of Public Safety, the Family Justice Center and other programs currently administered by the city, supplemented with $150,000 coming from the Office of the Chief of Police.
Mayor Berke said he will appoint an advisory board later this month and recruit a full time director to lead the OCR.