Chattanooga businesses close to show support for defunding police

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams speaks to demonstrators during a protest in Miller Park on Friday, June 12, 2020. Williams, a leader of I Can't Breathe Chattanooga, helped to organize a revenue strike on Tuesday, June 16 that encourages small businesses to close in support of redistributing funds from the Chattanooga Police Department to community and social service organizations.

A loose coalition of local small businesses shut their doors Tuesday as part of a revenue strike seeking the redistribution of money from the Chattanooga Police Department budget in favor of more financial support for community organizations.

"The business owners are trying to make a point to their council people that they should listen to the demands of the protesters and the community to table the budget to look at reallocation of funds, especially the police budget," said Cameron C-Grimey Williams, a leader of the ICan'tBreatheCHA movement.

As protests grew in the first week of June in response to the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, local business owners approached ICan'tBreatheCHA organizers seeking ways to show support, Williams said.

"It's a way to stand in solidarity with their dollars," Williams said. "They came to us with the idea and I was all for it."

Ryan Rothermel, the owner of Exile Off Main Street, said he knows the financial impact of the revenue strike may be minimal for the city, but business owners want their voices heard on the need to shift funding to the community.

"This is another way of a peaceful protest," he said. "We're trying something else just to get the mayor's eyes on us."

On Monday, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said he did not support defunding the police and was expected to present an alternative budget to City Council on Tuesday. The mayor's office declined to comment Tuesday on the revenue strike.

Last week, more than 140 people spoke over seven-and-half-hours during the time for public comment to ask the council to defund the police force. The revenue strike is just one more way to participate in local decision-making and try to influence the process, Rothermel said.

"You heard for eight hours from the citizens, and now you're going to see it from the small businesses," he said.

Some businesses, including his own, plan to continue the revenue strike every Tuesday, and they are recruiting other businesses to join the effort, Rothermel said.

"Obviously they're hurting financially, but they really believe in divesting funds from the police and investing it more in their community," he said.

Sluggo's, Collective Clothing and the Bicycle Bar were among the businesses that did not open for business Tuesday. Others, including Jack Brown's Beer & Burger Joint, opted to close an hour close early rather than keep the doors shut all day.

Williams said the primary goal of protesters is to see money shifted from policing to organizations that support communities of color, particularly nonprofit and grass roots groups that serve their communities.

"These are community-based, led by black people for black and brown people," he said. "The mayor in his last two state of the city claims we are city of innovators and creators. Let us not be left behind in the status quo."

Contact Mary Fortune at or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.