POLL: Should law enforcement protect street preachers?
UTC student Cole Montalvo stopped his bicycle Thursday afternoon to offer some advice to fire-and-brimstone evangelist Angela Cummings, who was preaching near the library to students -- or, as she referred to them, "you adulterers and adulteresses."
"Hey ma'am. If you're trying to spread the good word, maybe you shouldn't be telling everyone they're sinners," Montalvo says on a video that the street preacher posted on her YouTube page. "Maybe you shouldn't be yelling at everyone, OK?"
Four minutes later, the 24-year-old biochemistry student was face-down on the pavement, his hands cuffed behind him after being wrestled to the ground by four campus security personnel.
"What did I do to be arrested? Huh? Huh? Can you tell me?" Montalvo yells as students circle around the arrest, videoing it with their cellphone cameras. "All I did was say she shouldn't be calling us sinners, and she shouldn't be yelling at us."
Montalvo's arrest is the most recent disturbance spurred by the spectacle of the provocative street preacher's multiday visit to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Hundreds of students have circled around Cummings, laughing, taunting, shouting, asking irreverent questions -- even singing songs such as "Why you gotta be so mean?" -- as Cummings makes such statements as "lesbo alert, lesbians are on this campus" and "there's a buffet table of sins and ... you go start indulging in them like a pig."
To protect Cummings' right to free speech, the campus has established a perimeter on Heritage Plaza around the street preacher marked with orange cones and patrolled by campus security guards.
"Security is there for the speaker's protection and for our students' protection," UTC spokeswoman Cindy Carroll said Friday. "We are required by law to allow access to individuals with diverse ideas. A university should be a place where ideas -- even distasteful ones -- can be expressed and explored. The same protection that allows an individual to express one thought allows someone else to express an opposing opinion."
But fourth-year UTC student Alyssa Fjeld describes the street preaching as "hate speech."
"They always talk about the same things -- how horrible we all are, how we're living in our sins and will go to hell, and general condemnations against people of other races or sexual preferences," Fjeld wrote in a Facebook message to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. She said students also have been handed Jack Chick religious comic tracts. Its website offers such titles under "false religions" as "Are Roman Catholics Christian?" and warns "Islam is trying to take over."
Fjeld wrote, "If someone spoke to our school as a member of any other hate organization I do not think UTC would allow it, and I find it incredibly repugnant that they allow these people to come to our campus day after day."
Montalvo was arrested for disorderly conduct by UTC Police Sgt. Willie Trueitt, who wrote in an incident report that he told Montalvo five times to get back from the perimeter before arresting him. Trueitt sprayed Montalvo once with Mace, but missed his face, according to the report. On the video, Trueitt threatens to use a Taser.
As soon as Montalvo crossed the perimeter on his bicycle, the video shows a white-haired security officer stopping him and attempting to push him back.
"Get your hands off of me right now," Montalvo tells the man.
The video shows Montalvo turning around and attempting to walk away before he's taken down and arrested.
Montalvo swears at officers during his arrest, as do surrounding students.
"There's a special place in the non-existent hell for you," one of them yells at Cummings.
She yelled at him, "God's got your number, too, sinner!"
A nearly four-minute cellphone video of the incident on YouTube titled "Police brutality on UTC campus" had received a little more than 6,000 views by 4:30 p.m. Friday -- up from about 2,500 views at noon.
Efforts to contact Montalvo were unsuccessful. According to his Linkedin profile, before coming to UTC he studied biochemistry for four years at Lee University, a Christ-centered liberal arts campus in Cleveland, Tenn.
Cummings couldn't be contacted, either. According to news reports, she was raised in Chattanooga and went to Red Bank Baptist Church. Cummings had a troubled youth, according to her website. Feeling unwanted because she was given up for adoption by her teen mother, she wrote, she was "a complete mess: an alcoholic, dope smoker, sexually active and a true hell raiser."
Cummings got a permit from UTC to speak on Heritage Plaza on Oct. 29, 30 and 31, Carroll said. Her most recent permit allows her to speak Nov. 14, 15, 18, 19, 25 and 26.
"I signed up to be here this week, students," Cummings yells in Thursday's video. "I will be here tomorrow. I will be here Monday and Tuesday -- unless there is a rapture."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.