published Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Cook: Richard Bennett's tomorrow

It's been nearly a month since the arrest of Richard Bennett, the founder of A Better Tomorrow.

It was around midnight in East Lake Park when cops found him in a minivan with a small bag of marijuana, one-and-a-half hydrocodone pills on his key chain, two open Budweisers, a bottle of Patron tequila, and a woman who was not his wife.

Bennett's mugshot hit the news. City Hall cut ties with him, the man they'd counted on -- and financed heavily through the Violence Reduction Initiative -- to help in the rehabilitation of our young offenders. Financial backing shriveled. In our minds, many of us declared him guilty.

After all, what else could have been happening down there in that minivan?

Tuesday, Bennett was scheduled for an early court appearance before the heavier proceedings begin sometime later. Fast forward to the day when his judgment comes, and imagine this:

What happens if Bennett is found not guilty?

What happens if the charges against him are dropped?

Will Bennett be welcomed back into the fold, with renewed funding and full community support?

Chattanooga needs to start thinking about these questions, because I'll give good odds that Bennett won't be found guilty of a single thing.

Call it a hunch.

Anyway, I'm not so sure he did anything wrong that night.

The hydro pills: He's got a prescription for them.

The beer and tequila: The officer said he smelled alcohol on Bennett's breath, but was a blood alcohol test administered? If not, why not? If so, what are the results?

Is there any proof that Bennett was drinking, or just that he was in a car with open containers, which could have belonged to the woman he was with.

The woman he was with: There is no crime in sitting in a parked car with a member of the opposite sex. Period.

(Sure, it doesn't look good, especially for a married man. But Bennett's work often crossed the line between cultural proprieties into a real world where, well, sometimes you have to talk with folks who are drinking tequila and smoking pot at midnight.)

The pot: Was it Bennett's? Was it the woman's? I've heard Bennett was borrowing the van from someone. Did he even know the pot was there?

"Both parties denied knowing about [it]," the report states.

Anyway, would all the people in Chattanooga who have smoked pot in the last month please stand up? Thought so. Bennett's not the only one near a small bag of pot, is he?

Bennett's work is dirty work. Messy, complex. And incredibly important, for he's throwing lifelines to those Chattanoogans drowning in a sea that many of us know nothing about.

This does not happen in neat and tidy ways. It happens after midnight, with open containers. It happens in the places most of us dare not go. It happens because Bennett has a street power that comes from his own past.

Maybe a parable will help.

A man falls down into a hole, and can't get out.

A preacher walks by, sees him in the hole, says a prayer and keeps walking. Man's still stuck.

A doc walks by, tosses him some medicine down in the hole and keeps walking. The man is still stuck.

A teacher walks by, throws him a copy of the TCAP and keeps walking. The guy's still stuck.

Then, another man walks by and jumps down into the hole too.

"Dude, why'd you do that?" the first man says. "Now, we're both stuck."

"Yes," replied the second man. "But I've been here before. And I know the way out."

Bennett's been in those dark holes before, and he knows the way out.

Most of us haven't, and don't.

And since we can't imagine ourselves down in East Lake Park at midnight talking with folks who are drinking tequila and smoking pot (although I assure you the same thing happens in our wealthy 'hoods), we assume that his presence there must be a guilty one.

Like an inkblot test, we see what we want to see.

"The foundation of Chattanooga VRI is built on credibility and consequences," City Hall spokeswoman Lacie Stone said in an email Tuesday. "We must have the most credible mentors, police officers and service providers on our team in order for Chattanooga VRI to be successful in reducing violence."

Maybe Bennett was stoned and drunk, his credibility draining away like Bud from a bottle. Maybe he's guilty as sin.

But what if he's not? What if the court finds him not guilty?

Will the rest of the city too?

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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conservative said...

I read it once and then shook my head in disbelief.

Maybe Mr. Cook believes his fiction.

July 2, 2014 at 8:02 a.m.
Ki said...

This is one time ,and only one time I find myself agreeing with conserv, and disagreeing with Cook. A "not guilty" verdict doesn't mean innocent either, Mr. Cook. These so-called "success" stories are more exaggerations than successes. There use to be a vocational type training facility in Chattanooga where ex-offenders and most anyone looking to lift themselves out of a dire situation could just walk in, be evaluated, get signed up and take classes, get counseling and whatever else was needed. Why can't that be the way to go now? All these different programs that only duplicate one another and line their own pockets only take money away from what's needed, because the more programs the more the money is spread out and the less there is left to actually reach the people they claim to help. Personally, if I were on a panel to decide which agency is best suited to receive the funding, I find myself leaning more towards that Tennessee counseling proposal. There's appear more rounded to address most all the needs under one heading. And Mr. Cook, don't think for a moment some groups don't exploit and abuse their own just to elevate themselves and line their own pockets. There seems to appear a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde side to Mr. Bennet. Which is not at all surprising considering.

I just threw up! I'm actually agreeing with conservy on something

July 2, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

I agree with Ki,con and Mr. Cook. I also have some questions about this man. Exactly what credentials does he bring to be paid 50K a year when police and fire personnel are struggling to get by on thousands less? Did he even go to high school? If found guilty of a crime or not, is this the MODEL our city fathers want to present to youth who say they want to straighten up? PLEASE! Find professional,educated workers who are licensed to do this work. Have them evaluated with personality inventories and an IQ test before hiring them to do work that involves the public trust. It seems obvious this is not the right person. This administration seems to be doing everything by trial and error, perhaps they should hire someone who knows how to get it right the first time.

July 2, 2014 at 10:16 a.m.
timbo said...

I agree with Cook...I am sure that the marijuana was someone else's. The hydrocodone was for pain...wonder how old that prescription was. The beer was for a friend. The woman that was not his wife was most likely a friend that he was "counseling" for drug use.

It just couldn't have been his fault because he is black and the police pick on black people. If he had been white, they would have ignored that he was in a car, with booze, drugs, and a women that wasn't his wife.

Sounds like the IRS excuses.....

Nah...he couldn't be guilty.

Cook is an idiot. He is awful.

July 2, 2014 at 11:54 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Timbo hit on a significant item, "counseling." The word "counselor" is a lay term that anyone can use, that is why we have carpet counselors, fingernail polish counselors, etc. There is a specialty,"Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Services Provider, LPC-MHSP" that requires a minimum of a Master's Degree in psychological counseling to obtain a license, which can only be granted by the State. Preachers, even if they attended a preaching school, are not professionally prepared to "counsel" people with serious emotional or behavioral problems. I say again, hire a professional for the job you want done. The city could probably find some entry level LPCs that would work for 50K.

July 2, 2014 at 12:13 p.m.

+++We Preach Jesus Christ Crucified+++

Some of the most unappreciated work is not only among the most vital, but also the dirtiest.

Malleus Deum

July 2, 2014 at 12:46 p.m.
timbo said...

Cook is so gullible...

July 2, 2014 at 2:35 p.m.
aae1049 said...

I agree with KI and all the above. Credentialed and professional interventions, just being a former gang member is not enough.

July 3, 2014 at 12:41 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Mr. Cook, are you keeping your eye on this guy. He was supposed to go to court, but no report on what happened. Perhaps the city should call Chuck Norris in to handle the situation?

July 4, 2014 at 4:53 p.m.
nednetterville said...

David, The reason you are coming to Mr. Bennett's defense is that you have invested a lot of your mojo in the city's Violence Reduction Initiative (VRI). I think you are sincere, but as these other comments imply, you are also rather naive, which I seldom detect in your columns. You want to see the program work so you are looking at it and its participants through rose-colored glasses. Wake up and smell--not the roses--but the stench of city government wasting taxpayers' money on its sure-to-fail VRI program.

David, here's an axiom you can take to the bank: "Violence begets violence." And its corollary: "Initiating violence to reduce violence is trying to suppress fire by throwing petrol on it." All taxes are collected by force. All tax laws include enFORCEment provisions. If someone declines to pay a tax, the government will use all the force (viz., violence!) necessary to see that the money is collected. The funds used to pay Mr. Bennett from the city's VRI, is OPM, which sounds like opium, is equally addicting, and stands for Other People's Money--forcibly extorted. In my opinion, receiving and spending OPM is the equivalent of stealing. The crimes Mr. Bennett may or may not have committed in the park that night pale in comparison with the crime of living off the fruits of other people's labors taken from them by force or coercion.

July 13, 2014 at 1:27 p.m.
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