Chattanooga-based organizations Concerned Citizens for Justice and The Unity Group will host an “Amnesty for All Protesters” rally on Oct. 3, from 4:30-8 p.m. at Community Haven, 815 N. Hickory St.
The protest is in support of local activists “facing (criminal) charges for defending Black lives and demanding justice.”
Those arrested–Marie Mott, Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams, Daniel Cash, Gerald Cowley, Grason Harvey, Cedric Josey and Joshua Tilford–appeared on Sept. 1 before Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Gary Starnes to answer for charges of theft, vandalism, inciting a riot and reckless burning.
The charges, filed by the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, stem from two separate incidents–the alleged theft of a Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office flag and then burning it during a July 9 protest in Miller Park, and allegedly blocking an intersection near Market and East Main streets on July 10, while first responders attempted to respond to a call.
“Community members, faith based leaders and organizations in Chattanooga will continue to fight for amnesty for all protesters, an end to the criminalization and harassment of protesters, freedom to practice 1st Amendment rights, the right to a fair trial with due process, as well as the immediate release of all incarcerated people from Hamilton County jail and Silverdale detention center,” Concerned Citizens for Justice officials said in a statement.
During the Sept. 1 trial, Mott’s counsel McCracken Poston asked the court to dismiss the charges against his client, arguing that “other cities across the country are choosing not to prosecute.”
Poston said attorneys for the other protesters would likely join such a request.
But Judge Starnes said he would not dismiss any of the charges before he had a chance to hear all the evidence.
“I’m not going to dismiss any cases today,” Starnes said.
On Sept. 2, protesters gathered at Miller Park, where Mott alleged that Judge Starnes supported the “Blue Lives Matter” movement and was therefore biased in this case. She cited a Facebook post the judge had shared, which included a picture of his grandson and other children with a Blue Lives Matter flag.
Mott called for Starnes to recuse himself. Two days later, that’s exactly what happened.
Starnes signed an order of recusal on Fri., Sept. 4.
In a statement, Judge Starnes said he was recusing himself from hearing the protesters’ cases “in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, to avoid any negative effect on the judiciary, and in the interest of my grandson’s privacy and safety.”
The Administrative Office of the Courts will now appoint another judge for the Oct. 8, 8:30 a.m. preliminary hearing, where prosecutors will present evidence against the seven demonstrators. The new judge will then decide whether to dismiss the charges or send them to a grand jury.
A grand jury would take another look at the evidence and vote on whether to formally indict Mott, Williams and the other protesters.
The Black Voters Matter “We Got Power” Bus Tour is joining the Oct. 3 Chattanooga rally as a special guest. The activist group rides around from state to state in its tour bus–affectionally dubbed the “Blackest Bus in America”–ahead of the November election, to engage Black voters and ensure they have equal rights and access to a free and fair election process.
Masks will be required for anyone attending the rally.
Protests across the nation broke out after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.”
Mott and Williams are leaders of the local demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice.