Around 60 people demonstrated outside a Chattanooga City Council meeting Tuesday, calling for the abolition of police and prisons following the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis last month.
"This heinous act of state-sanctioned violence must be viewed not in isolation, but part of a longstanding history of police violence against Black people in Memphis, across the state of Tennessee and the entire country," the Rev. Charlotte Williams of Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church said.
(READ MORE: Revisiting police reform in Chattanooga in the aftermath of Tyre Nichols' death)
The rally was organized by the Chattanooga activist group Concerned Citizens for Justice, which formed in 1984 and revived in 2012 following the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
"We believe that police and prisons do not belong in a just world," group member Ayana Clemmons said. "We do not believe in reform. We want abolition."
Demonstrators said Nichols' killing felt closer to home, because it was in Tennessee, but said police killings on the whole are not new.
"When I heard the news, I was not surprised," Garrell Woods, with the Black Rainbow Movement, said of Nichols' death. "Even more so, after the discovery that it was at the hands of Black officers and one white officer, that was also not surprising ... this is proof that policing as a system is the problem."
(READ MORE: EMT fired for Tyre Nichols response previously worked in Chattanooga)
As the Chattanooga City Council met inside the building next door, demonstrators lined up on the steps of City Hall, facing 11th Street with signs calling for the end of police terrorism or commemorating people killed by police. Inside, council member Chip Henderson of Lookout Valley called for bridging racial and economic divides in an opening prayer at the start of the meeting.
Clemmons said while the reason for the demonstration wasn't positive, the gathering may help spread awareness about police violence.
"I'm just glad to be here, and I'm glad to see the outcome, because it started with just a few of us," said Desmond Brown, whose brother died in the Silverdale Detention Center in May. "We are growing by the day here, and we will not stop ... if they don't hear us, we will be coming right back."
Some demonstrators said they'd last attended rallies like Tuesday's in 2020 in response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As night fell on the rally, lights from news crews lit up demonstrators, and passing drivers slowed to read signs or shout encouragement.
(READ MORE: Chattanooga pastor hopes Silverdale discussion ignites healing in community)
"From our standpoint, I feel like this is a solid place to start, just spreading awareness and the word that things are wrong," demonstrator Taylor Delozier said.
As people joined the rally, organizers handed out flyers with a list of 76 people they say have been killed by law enforcement in the Chattanooga area, including in neighboring counties in Tennessee and Georgia. Just one of those deaths resulted in a criminal trial, according to the group, and the officer was acquitted.
"For years, especially in Chattanooga, we've been hearing the same reformist agendas," Clemmons said, "and still, Black lives are being lost and stolen from us at the hands of police and law enforcement."
The most recent of those, Damean Jones, was shot and killed by Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies Dec. 29 after a series of car chases that began after Jones reportedly stole a car in Catoosa County, Georgia. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the deputies' role in that shooting.
(READ MORE: Chattanooga families claim deadly medical neglect at Silverdale Detention Center)
Family members of two men who died from alleged medical neglect at Silverdale Detention Center, DaQuarrius "Jay" Brown and Abraham Jackson, spoke about the need for change in the facility.
"When y'all say shut it down, I really do think it needs to happen," said Ashley Jackson Kellogg, Jackson's daughter.
Seeing a recent video of the facility taken during a tour by a lawyer, Jackson Kellogg said, convinced her the structure is unsafe. She said she'd like to see a complete overhaul of both the physical building and the staff that work there.
"My brother was a healthy person before he went into Silverdale," Brown said. "They beat around the bush about everything. I never see them show up to any of these rallies that we do."
(READ MORE: Chattanooga police chief talks reform, accountability and plans to revise use of force policy at town hall)
Activists in Chattanooga have called for the city's police budget to be reduced and for more community oversight of the department since weeks of protest in 2020 following Floyd's murder.
While the department has pointed to its Police Advisory and Review Committee as an oversight measure, demonstrators Monday said they felt the members, chosen by the City Council, don't represent the public. The committee is also limited by its lack of subpoena power, activists said.
"PARC is merely an administrative puppet of the CPD's internal affairs, and it cannot independently investigate the police or hold them accountable in any way whatsoever," Williams said.
Police Chief Celeste Murphy held a town hall this week in an effort to hearing community concerns about law enforcement.
"Now more than ever, we have to work together to bridge the great divide in our communities and with the police," Murphy said in a recent statement. "And as your police chief, I assure you this remains a primary focus for our department."
Contact Ellen Gerst at email@example.com or 423-757-6319.