Chattanooga NAACP to discuss racial injustice after George Zimmerman acquittal

Chattanooga NAACP to discuss racial injustice after George Zimmerman acquittal

July 16th, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

George Zimmerman speaks with one of his attorneys in this file photo.

IF YOU GO

What: Chattanooga NAACP chapter meeting*

When: Today at 6 p.m.

Where: Glenwood Recreation Center, 2610 E. Third St.

* The meeting is open to the public

VIDEO

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POLL: Should federal charges be filed against George Zimmerman?

Two days after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, officials with the local chapter of the NAACP called for an end to "systemic and institutional biases" that harm communities.

"We as a society simply cannot stand for the unlawful targeting and murder of innocent civilians, and as witnessed in the Trayvon Martin death, our children, and in particular our young black children," the statement reads.

Eric Atkins, secretary of the local NAACP chapter, said the organization will meet tonight to discuss racial profiling, harassment and intimidation that minorities endure from society in general and from law enforcement figures.

"We want to make people aware of the things going on in terms of voting rights and in terms of criminal justice right now," he said Monday.

Debate about race, guns and the criminal justice system ignited across the country since the Zimmerman verdict was announced Saturday night. On Sunday, members of Concerned Citizens of Justice in Chattanooga held a rally.

"All life has value," said Ash-Lee Henderson, who organized the event that drew about 100 people. "Any injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Atkins said the local chapter of the NAACP stands with other chapters across the country in denouncing the verdict.

He said the local chapter has fielded complaints from citizens about violations of their personal rights and liberties. Local chapter officials also criticized police practices that it says amount to racial profiling intimidation.

Atkins pointed to an Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies review of field interviews conducted by Chattanooga Police Department officers in 2012.

A total of 6,366 stops were made, not including traffic stops.

Fifty-five percent of those stopped -- men and women together -- were black. According to U.S. Census data, the city's population is 35 percent black.

Ken Chilton, former chief executive of the Ochs Center who reviewed of the statistics, said the key word is "disparity."

"Yes, the percentage of blacks affected by the [field interview] policy was higher than in the general population, but, residents in many low-income minority communities have complained for years about gangs, violence and public nuisances.

"When the race of the person was entered in the database, blacks were more likely than whites to be stopped in black neighborhoods and vice versa. Is it disproportional? Yes, but there is a disproportional amount of crime in many low-income, minority-concentrated neighborhoods," he said.

Despite the analysis, Atkins said he still believes blacks are unfairly targeted.

"Who are the people in jail right now? It's mostly people who are African American," Atkins said. "We have to stop racial profiling. We have to stop harassment."

Atkins said local law enforcement officials were not invited to today's meeting to discuss issues in the criminal justice system. However, he said all meetings are open to the public.

He said there was "no reason in particular" why leaders weren't invited this time, but NAACP members "are willing to work with anybody who wants to work with us."

"Any time we have called on [Police] Chief [Bobby] Dodd, he has always gone out of his way to help us," Atkins said.

Staff writer Jeff LaFave contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.