Chattanooga councilwoman says activist threatened her over police defunding

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Chattanooga City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod asks questions about the 10-year plan for public art during a meeting in the City Council Assembly Room Tuesday, February 12, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While Coonrod praised the work, she was concerned with some areas receiving more funds and projects than others as well as the lack of diversity in artists used for such projects.

A Chattanooga councilwoman says the most prominent leader of the George Floyd protests locally threatened her during a meeting about calls for the city to defund the police department.

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod says activist and City Council candidate Marie Mott threatened her during a meeting on Monday night. According to Coonrod, the meeting was called by Mott and other activists to discuss the Chattanooga police budget, which many locals have called to be cut in order to reinvest in the community and prevent police brutality.

(READ MORE: Defund the police? Chattanooga council members respond to the idea)

The activists were arguing to table the budget - that is, delay it - to allow further discussion of issues raised by protesters over the fate of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

"I felt like everything was cool before that. She really was upset about the fact that I didn't agree to table the budget. I just don't think that's a move in the right direction. It's just not," Coonrod said, adding that she wants to see more policy changes in policing rather than delaying the city budget.

"I feel like that was an opportunity where we could have talked about some things that we do agree on and some things we can do to effect change...changing anything within the budget is not going to change the racism that's happening. So we have to fight that from a whole different perspective."

After she said she would not be voting for delay, Coonrod says Mott approached her screaming in her face. Coonrod didn't detail exactly what Mott said beyond "get out," but said she interpreted the incident as a threat.

"My thing is, it's a line [she] crossed. You can say whatever you want to say, and that's for anybody, but once you get in someone's face and start yelling and screaming, that's different," Coonrod said. "No one - protester, advocate, or whomever - they don't have the opportunity to jump in my face because at that point, you're in my personal space, and I'm gonna handle my business and I'm gonna make sure I protect me."

Coonrod says that a present member of clergy then intervened, and she took a walk to cool off before leaving the meeting.

Mott, on the other hand, says nothing happened.

"There was nothing between me and Coonrod. We just had a meeting with our elders, but there's nothing happened," Mott said. "She's just being dramatic."

After Coonrod posted on Facebook about not taking threats lightly, the story stirred a debate between allies of Mott and friends of Coonrod on social media.

Dennis Clark, executive director of the Chattanooga Urban Policy Institute, posted of Facebook to offer Coonrod his support if she felt threatened again, prompting a debate in the comments between city employees, other activists, and even Mott - who told Clark to "stay in [his] lane" since he was not at the meeting.

Despite disputing the claims on social media, Mott said nothing happened worth talking about.

"There's nothing that we need to discuss. I mean that was a private meeting, and she was asked to leave. She was escorted out," Mott said on the phone. "And there was only, maybe eight of us there. The majority of people talking about whatever happened weren't even there."

Recognizing Mott's bid for council, Coonrod said that she hopes the activist will be able to work better with other community leaders whether she gets the seat or not.

"We have got to create legislation to change these things but it's going to take more than just people screaming and hollering," Coonrod said, noting many heated, but never physically escalated battles she has taken up with fellow council members surrounding policing issues. "You've got to be able to work together and you can't feel like you can violate people's personal space."

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