Chattanooga, TN activists speak in Movement Minute

Protests have been going on for five weeks. | Josh Fowler

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C-Grimey and Marie Mott are the founders of ICantBreatheCha + the organizers of the civil rights protests that have been happening for weeks downtown.

Our Chattanooga leadership’s claim of a “$1 million” reallocation of funds to the new Office of Community Resilience is not what it appears to be at first glance.

Much like the announcement of the city’s recognition of Juneteenth while simultaneously pushing through the budget after silencing voting citizens’ voices, this “Resiliency” office makes a mockery of what we have asked for.

So we would like to spend our own Movement Minute (because we also appreciate alliteration) to examine why the budget doesn’t begin to achieve the real change that our community needs. 

Let’s break it down:

1. The City is not investing $1 million, they’re only reallocating $150,000 from the Office of the Chief of Police for the creation of this “Office of Community Resilience.” 

The other funds already exist. The City is simply combining existing programs to give the appearance of a larger investment when in actuality the police are still the primary recipient of our taxpayer funding. While it makes a nice quote to say “more than $1 million,” the reality of the distribution of these funds is still woefully insufficient.

2. The “Office of Community Resilience” is and will be underfunded. While the City has moved other services (like the Family Justice Center) to exist under the umbrella of the new “Office of Community Resilience,” these are already often under-funded programs and services, simply being lumped with a new under-funded office. Nothing has changed.

3. The safest communities are not the ones with the most police officers, but the ones with the most resources. And yet, as we continually repeat that our Black and Brown communities need resources, we’re told that there is no funding.

But that’s not actually true. When we have millions and millions of dollars — about 28% of our fiscal budget — going to the police, it’s clear that the funds exist, but our city has prioritized police over the poor. Over people of color.

Phrases like “defund” sound extreme until you realize: Government has been defunding education for years under more palatable terms like “tax cuts” or just a general divestment and refusal to increase those budgets when asked.

Why are teachers expected to buy their own classroom supplies, when police officers would never be expected to purchase their own bullets?

(Yes, our city does not control our education budget, however technology centers and other resources in Black and Brown communities would also go a long way toward equity. And, the city budget could provide that, as well as better public transit for students to get to school safely and reduce truant and drop-out rates. Especially when you consider that property taxes largely determine education funding, which disproportionately impacts low-income communities.)

Chattanooga DSA has provided budget amendment proposals here.

An “Office of Community Resilience” is a slap in the face even in its name alone. Remember what our communities have been begging for. This minuscule shift in funds will not make us more resilient.

These communities HAVE ALREADY BEEN resilient. We don’t want offices unless it looks like a real civilian oversight board. Not when we have been asking for our babies to have extracurricular art and musical opportunities, like their private school counterparts. We want our parents to not have to wait 45 minutes for an unreliable bus in the heat of the summer or pouring rain to take them to work.

Does the City value the residents of Northshore and Southside more than those in the Westside, East Lake, and Highland Park? That is what the budget and city planning suggests.

Our leadership needs to stop assuming that their perception of reality means that their solutions, to problems they don’t understand, are better than solutions developed by those who have lived the consequences of them.

Chattanooga has the unique opportunity to take the lead in the South. Other cities of all sizes have made fast-acting changes to protect its citizens. 

We claim to be a city of creators. And now, hundreds of our residents are speaking out, saying we have created alternative — and better — solutions to strengthen our city.

It’s time for our leadership to start listening to its residents and stop assuming they know the solutions that will drive change.

There’s a lifetime of pain and suffering that the City is attempting to solve with policy and paperwork. And that will not do. We can and must do better.

— Marie Mott, C-Grimey, & @ICantBreatheCHA