Dozens gathered in front of Chattanooga City Hall Tuesday evening for a vigil to remember lives lost to hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.
The crowd filled the street in front of the building, many in LGBTQ pride-themed outfits. The vigil marked the two-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
City officials highlighted the importance of tolerance and acceptance.
"The Pulse [shooting] struck you as a community as a direct attack for being who you are and loving who you love," Chattanooga Police Department Chief David Roddy said.
He said law enforcement officers across the country, including in Chattanooga, studied Pulse and other tragedies to learn how to better protect targeted communities.
"We've looked at what occurred. We're making ourselves more aware and better educated so that we are better suited to do the thing that we are supposed to do, which is to keep you, your family and our community safe," he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke pointed to the Chattanooga Police Department's cadet academy.
"Every one of our police cadets goes through an academy, and at that academy, they actually do an immersion program into the community," he said.
Cadets spend a few months engaging with several minority groups in the city, talking and asking them about their experiences with police and how the police department can do a better job serving them.
After the program, cadets have said they have a new-found sense of empathy and understanding for each group's culture and their specific hardships, the Times Free Press reported previously.
Toward the end of the vigil, several people shared stories of loved ones who were killed, took their own lives or died of diseases, such as AIDS.
Each time a story was told, a bass drum was hit in honor of that person's life.
"I lost over 60 people to AIDS," Ginger Moss, one of the event organizers, said through tears. "They died so fast, we couldn't even have services for them."
Roddy said he applauds the LGBTQ community for its strength.
"If you chose easier lives, you would be somewhere else. You would not be locking arms with one another to push through the barriers, the the perceptions, and the biases that you face," he said.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.