published Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Bradley County NAACP addresses accusations of racial remarks

Lawrence Armstrong, president of the Bradley County NAACP, addresses the Cleveland City Council regarding racial slurs allegedly made by Councilman Charlie McKenzie while on duty with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. Seated are Councilmen Charlie McKenzie, center, and Bill Estes.
Lawrence Armstrong, president of the Bradley County NAACP, addresses the Cleveland City Council regarding racial slurs allegedly made by Councilman Charlie McKenzie while on duty with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. Seated are Councilmen Charlie McKenzie, center, and Bill Estes.
Photo by Paul Leach /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — City leaders, Bradley County NAACP officials and residents wrestled with racial slurs allegedly made by a member of the Cleveland City Council.

On Monday, Councilman Charlie McKenzie came under scrutiny regarding reports made by two deputies that he made racially provocative statements while serving as a part-time process server with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. McKenzie resigned from the department in January because of health reasons.

"Charlie, from my standpoint, did you say those things or did you not say those things?" asked Vice Mayor Avery Johnson. "We've got a lot people here concerned about this issue."

"If I ever said anything to offend anyone, I apologize," said McKenzie, who referred to statements recently made by Sheriff Jim Ruth alleging that the issue was part of a politically motivated campaign to smear his office.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland cited some of Ruth's comments, especially regarding a fraudulently addressed email purporting to be from the "Southeast NAACP" that was recently sent to area media outlets. Local NAACP officials have denied issuing the email.

While the City Council was free to discuss any matter they wished, said City Attorney John Kimball, there was no obligation to address issues related to McKenzie's work with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.

Several officials and members of the members of the public disagreed with Kimball. Some stated that the matter merited discussion at the least, while others called for McKenzie's resignation from the Cleveland City Council if the allegations were true.

"To hear that type of language and say that we're going to give it a pass and to treat it as though that elephant is not in the room today is totally grievous to me and disappointing to the citizens of this community," said Lawrence Armstrong, president of the Bradley County NAACP.

Even if McKenzie has been targeted as a "sacrificial lamb" in an upcoming political race for the sheriff's office, Armstrong said that the councilman is responsible for things he said in conversation with other law enforcement officers.

"At the end of the day, the allegations that were made against Mr. McKenzie were written and submitted by two sworn-in officers," said Armstrong. "These are legitimate affidavits that are on file."

The issue has to be dealt with openly, said resident Nathan Porter, advising that McKenzie ought to "come clean" regarding the reported slurs. Porter noted that McKenzie's use of the word "if" in his apology did not necessarily imply that he admitted or denied the accusations.

At Councilman Richard Banks' suggestion, McKenzie agreed to meet with Armstrong and others at a future date to discuss the matter further.

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