Black elected officials call for protesters to vote, amplify black voices

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, at podium, speaks at a news conference, joined by other black elected officials, on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse about recent concerns from the black community.

Chattanooga area black elected officials are calling for community members to vote, engage and follow through with political demands amid days of unrest, despite a lack of tangible movement toward addressing demands.

After four days of hundreds of people protesting police brutality in Chattanooga, Hamilton County Commissioners Warren Mackey and Katherlyn Geter, City Council members Demetrus Coonrod, Erskine Oglesby, Anthony Byrd and Russell Gilbert and Hamilton County Board of Education member Karitsa Mosley called for activists to continue the conversations beyond protests.

According to Oglesby, each of the officials has been to one or more of the protests spurred by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minnesota, which have taken place across the country in the last two weeks, because of the implications for each official, their families and their constituents as concerned black citizens.

"The color of our skin is present. You guys see that, right?" Geter asked. "It affected us as black men. It affected us as black women. The three of us [women] up here, we're mothers. I'm raising two African American men. So when that news took place, the title of commissioner went out the window. I had to stop and think about what this meant for me as a black woman."

Despite high tensions surrounding the death, Oglesby said the officials are listening to constituents to make the right decisions in order to promote justice and equity in their communities.

"One thing that I'm seeing personally is that we are at a point in our history where groups that do not usually get together are getting together and talking about this," said Oglesby, who said he's attended related protests in Nashville and Louisville. "Particularly, you see the support it has from police officers here and across the country, and that's where it starts."

Oglesby said that defunding the police is "not an option," but that he encourages psychiatric and other aptitude assessments now used in the police department.

Otherwise, specific protester demands were not addressed, but Coonrod called for voters and colleagues to focus on amplifying black voices in positions of power.

"I think it's very important that the black community have positive conversations about working for the police department, because that's the only way we're going to change it, from the inside," she said. "And if we don't have people who look like us working on the inside, and we're scared to become police officers, then we're never going to change that system."

With Chief David Roddy of the Chattanooga Police Department condemning Floyd's death last week and some Chattanooga officers kneeling with protesters out of solidarity, council members had no criticism of the city's police force during the protests.

Standing on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse, where Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies pointed non-lethal weapons at and deployed tear gas on protesters, journalists and unsuspecting Chattanooga officers just Sunday, Geter called the force with which the sheriff's office handled the situation "alarming."

"What I saw take place here on our grounds at the courthouse was very disturbing, but we have to put it in context, right," she asked. "This is a very sensitive situation that's taking place. There's a lot of sensitivity, there's a lot of emotion. I would say there's a lot of drastic changes that have to take place but I would just encourage individuals to protest, to protest safely and to protest in the right way."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County officials defend use of tear gas, say assaulting police does not honor George Floyd)

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.