NAACP meeting could have been better, chief says

NAACP meeting could have been better, chief says

August 21st, 2009 by Jacqueline Koch in News

2009 officer-involved shooting deaths in the area

* March 14 -- Randy Crisp, 43, Meigs County

* June 24 -- John Curtis Coates, 34, shot by Walker County deputy in Fort Oglethorpe

* July 1 -- Alonzo O'Kelley Jr., 15, shot by Chattanooga Housing Authority officer in Chattanooga

* July 18 -- Alonzo Heyward, 32, shot by Chattanooga officers in Chattanooga

* Aug. 8 -- Richard LaMark Dunn, 21, shot by East Ridge officers in East Ridge

What happens next

The NAACP has said it will host more meetings to allow residents to voice their thoughts on the recent officer-involved shootings. No dates have been set. A Chattanooga resident said he plans to find a church to host a memorial service sometime next week for the three men killed in recent shootings.

What could have been a productive NAACP meeting about community violence and potential solutions turned into an unexpected hounding of police, Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper said Thursday.

"I didn't think for any minute that it was going to be a bashing of police," the chief said, referring to Tuesday's meeting, which lasted more than an hour and ended with heated exchanges between the public and department spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary.

Audience members expressed frustration and anger with three recent fatal shootings -- two in Chattanooga and one in East Ridge -- that involved police officers.

Chief Cooper said NAACP officials should've talked about the 60 other shootings -- none of which involved police -- that occurred in Chattanooga in 2009 and what to do to prevent similar incidents.

"It was told to (local NAACP president Valoria) Armstrong about the other 60 shootings (that occurred in 2008 in the city)," he said. "So they were fully aware of that. That should have been a topic to the community for them to get involved."

He said he's not bashing the NAACP, but wishes the meeting had addressed the deeper problem of overall violence in the community. He said he's appalled that people aren't outraged about street violence and that they express anger only about the recent officer-involved shootings.

"Nothing was resolved that I can see out of it, but making more people angry and some more people confused," the chief said.

He said he didn't attend he meeting because he was not invited.

Ms. Armstrong said Thursday that the news release invited any member of the community to attend, but did not specifically extend an invite to law enforcement.

She said the NAACP could look into other shootings occurring in the city if asked to do so, but at this time is focusing on the officer-involved shootings.

The NAACP is conducting investigations into the deaths of 15-year-old Alonzo O'Kelley Jr. and 32-year-old Alonzo Heyward -- two men killed in July by a CHA officer and Chattanooga officers, respectively -- but that does not suggest any wrongdoing, it merely asks for accountability, Ms. Armstrong said.

"We've not directed any negativity toward the police department," Ms. Armstrong said. "The community meeting itself does show there's a concern from the community. That's what we want to express to Chief Cooper ... that that has caused a distrust in the community."

Chief Cooper said he thought a meeting few weeks ago among Chattanooga police, CHA police and the NAACP had led to recognition of the larger violence problems and that Tuesday's meeting would address those issues.

The NAACP will continue to host public meetings, Ms. Armstrong added.

"At the end of the day, we want to ensure that there is accountability if accountability needs to be placed on any of the officers," she said.

But some in the community say the NAACP isn't doing enough to foster change between the community and police department.

Former City Council and school board candidate Chester Heathington said he plans next week to host a memorial service for Mr. Heyward, Mr. O'Kelley and Richard LaMark Dunn, who was killed by East Ridge police on Aug. 8.

The NAACP's actions won't lead to any information about the shootings nor will they help the families, Mr. Heathington said, so he also is organizing a fundraiser to purchase a headstone for Mr. O'Kelley.

"The NAACP is a nonfunctioning body in the city of Chattanooga now," Mr. Heathington said. "It's nonaction."

Chief Cooper said the community needs to address the overall problem of violence and hopes to work with local, state and federal officials to remove guns from the streets. He said he may propose a gun buyback, in which guns are exchanged for incentives.

"We have to make that effort but we have to count on the community," he said. "If a mom or dad sees that a child has a gun, they need to do the right thing and take the gun."