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David Mobley calls out to participants in a march to end violence on M.L. King Blvd. late Sunday. The march began and ended at Coolidge Park on the Northshore in downtown Chattanooga. Participants walked for more than two hours beginning at 6 p.m., making the loop across the Tennessee River to downtown and back across ending at 8:25 p.m.

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Anti-violence march in downtown Chattanooga

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Chattanooga police lined the right side of the Market Street Bridge to separate from traffic a group of anti-violence marchers trickling back towards Coolidge Park after an evening of parading through Chattanooga in protest of police violence and violence in general.

"It was a good relationship between us," said Anthony Wiley, a black man who helped organize the march, about the police presence. "They understand why we're out here, and we understand why they're out here."

"To protect them and make sure they don't get hit," said a white police officer who stood in front of his patrol car with lights flashing as the protesters walked to his left and cars drove by on his right.

Following a violent week nationally in the wake of police shootings of black men and the sniper shootings of five Dallas police officers, this march through downtown on a balmy night brought the tense talk of a nation to local streets.

From Coolidge Park to East M.L. King Boulevard and back, hundreds of locals walked along the sidewalks holding signs that said "Black Lives Matter," "Chatt Lives Matter" and "Stop the Violence." Along the route, some chanted, "I can't breathe."

Patrons at Market Street restaurants wide-eyed at the marchers, some remaining silent as their food sat in front of them. Others offered encouragement and raised their fists as the crowds trickled by.

"We banded together as a community under Nooga Strong," Wiley said. "But when things are happening around the nation, where black people are being killed, you also have to take into account that a segment of this population here is black people. So when we feel threatened on a national level, we also feel threatened within our own community.

"Chattanooga, we have some of the greatest police around, but there are still instances where we fall through the cracks."

Dozens of police cars blanketed the area as the march, which lasted for nearly three hours, made its way through town. Most of the crowd was African American but a strong sprinkling of white people marched as well.

"You see short people, tall people, people with tattoos, Muslims, Buddhists, all out here to stop the violence among all people, and they're also out here on behalf of Black Lives Matter," Curtis Warner said. "It's a beautiful thing to see white people out in here in mass amounts. I believe if we had more than 14 hours to set this up, there would be even more and that's what makes Chattanooga strong, is the fact that all these people are out here supporting each other for one cause."

Warner said he works with young people and that he wanted to "stand in the gap" for those who have been affected by violence in the Chattanooga community.

As the group passed the Hamilton County Jail, two people could could be seen peeking through the windows.

"Hey, we're marching for you, too," a woman shouted from behind.

"Your life matters, too," another woman yelled towards the jail.

Earlier in the day, members of one of Chattanooga's largest predominantly black churches and others from the community gathered outside the church building on East M.L. King Boulevard to pray for unity amid the wave of violence that has shaken the country.

During the regular service, two Chattanooga police officers spoke to the congregation and called for communication.

Olivet Baptist Church pastor Kevin Adams said the decision to host the vigil and have police officers speak was made Friday, the day after the Dallas officers were shot during a peaceful public protest of recent police shootings of black men.

"It's about coming together across racial lines, denominational lines, just the people of God coming together to pray," Adams said. "We want to send out a message that we're not as divided as some people may think."

A missionary service crew from Lebanon, Tenn., in town to help needy residents with home maintenance, attended the vigil wearing work boots and T-shirts.

"I'll be honest with you, my church is white," said the crew's leader, Jamie Martin, during the vigil. "I want half ya'll to come to my church. We don't praise God the way that ya'll do.

"We're divided," Martin continued. "And I don't know how it happened. But God didn't do it."

Martin prayed for reconciliation and understanding. He and his crew weren't the only attendees sporting work attire among the churchgoers dressed in their Sunday best.

Chattanooga police officer Desmond Logan and Sgt. Josh May, invited by Adams, wore their uniforms as they answered questions from the congregation during the service.

"I jumped on it immediately," said May, who is white. "I thought it was a good opportunity to speak to the community, to speak to individuals that we serve and protect, who pay my salary, and open lines of communication for any kind of issue we may have, because we're all on the same team. We want to be safe, we want to be free, out of jail and alive. And we need to work together. Opening lines of communication is the first step."

Logan, who is black and now patrols the Highland Park neighborhood where he grew up, said he and May wanted to get the message out that "all cops are not bad."

"Unfortunately, that's what the media portrays," he said. "But that's not the case at all."

Tony Kemp, director of the local National Center for the Development of Boys, also attended.

Hours before the Sunday morning gathering, local media reported several dozen marched down Brainerd Road on Saturday night holding signs that said "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter."

"A lot of times there's fear, because we haven't had conversations," Adams said. "We build up these ideologies and we build up all these things we think about one another because we haven't talked to one another."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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