National Night Out aims to foster relationship between community, police

Eleyda Tomas, right, 6, watches her balloon fly as Chattanooga Baby University volunteer Lasha-Rockymore, left, offers popcorn to Roldy Tomas, 4, on Tuesday at the National Night Out event in East Lake Park. Vilma Simon, back center, looks on.

The Chattanooga Police Department Community Outreach Trailer pumped music into East Lake Park as First Bible Methodist Church members put face paint on kids, volunteers passed out popcorn and neighborhood association leaders encouraged residents to get a free hot dog or chicken wing dinner.

East Lake was among more than a dozen communities across the city and thousands across the country participating in the 33rd Annual National Night Out on Tuesday, a nationwide event of crime prevention implemented through building relationships with neighbors and police officers.

photo Hundreds of East Lake neighbors gather for the National Night Out kickoff event in East Lake Park.

"Here's why we're here tonight," said Mayor Andy Berke, who attended the event. "A part of what National Night Out is about is to say 'These are our streets. These are our neighborhoods, and we are safest when we take responsibility for each other.'"

Communities are safest when residents get involved and report to police officers when they see strange or illegal activity, he said.

At a time when people across the country are protesting the police shootings of black men and women, hundreds of residents in Chattanooga gathered to celebrate and strengthen partnerships with police.

"Sometimes we don't appreciate some of their behavior to some of us, particularly in low income neighborhoods, but by and large we support the police and we want them to be here to protect us," said City Councilman Moses Freeman, who stopped at the East Lake kickoff event before going to neighborhood celebrations in his East Chattanooga district.

Most states and Canada celebrated National Night Out on the first Tuesday in August. Chattanooga celebrates along with communities in Texas and Arkansas on the first Tuesday in October when the weather is cooler.

In honor of the citywide celebration, Howard School students hosted festivities at the South Chattanooga Youth and Family Development Center with Alton Park and Oak Hill residents. Howard and Tyner's band played. And the neighborhoods honored local Nation of Islam Leader Kevin Muhammad and Westside Baptist Church Pastor Timothy Careathers with community service awards.

Westside Church and the Nation of Islam study group meets in Alton Park.

Oak Hills Neighborhood Association President Terry McCullough also recognized Southside Leadership Advisory Council President Tony Haire and Vice President Rosemary Porter for community service, and Calvin Torry won the community outstanding garden award.

Other neighborhoods celebrating National Night Out include Eastdale, Ferger Place, St. Elmo and Murray Hills.

Ridgedale and Oak Grove shared food and fellowship together during their National Night Out celebration at the 12th Street gazebo.

"We're hoping to get communities together," said Gary Ball, vice president of the Ridgedale Community Association. "We have a lot of different cultural groups, including Hispanics, and we want them to feel safe in this neighborhood."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or (423) 757-6431.