Since the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks, Chattanooga officials say they have made it their mission to ensure such a tragedy can never again happen.
Now, nearly four years later, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's Council Against Hate, formed in 2018, will present its findings to the public this week.
IF YOU GO
What: Council Against Hate public meeting
Who: Mayor Andy Berke, council Co-Chairs Allison Lebovitz and Wade Hinton, and former Charlottesville, Virginia, Mayor Michael Signer
Where: The Camp House, 149 E. M.L. King Blvd., Chattanooga, TN 37402
When: Thursday from 5:30-7 p.m.
For more information and to RSVP visit Connect.Chattanooga.gov/councilagainsthate
Berke announced the creation of the 21-member council during last year's State of the City address, citing a rise in incidents of hate speech and extremism across the country.
Since then, council members — volunteer citizens and community leaders — have been researching ways to address hate at its root and foster and support an "open, tolerant and diverse Chattanooga."
In the aftermath of the 2015 attacks, there were some signs of anger and hatred, the Times Free Press previously reported. A woman stood on the Walnut Street bridge with a sign that said: "Ship out Arabs." And a few people stood outside of a mosque the Friday after the attack with a sign that said: "This religion and this building offends me."
But there were also signs that the community could move forward together.
That same Friday night, nearly 1,000 people crowded into Olivet Baptist Church downtown, and many local Muslims were there, some in traditional head scarves.
Pastors asked the group not to let what happened that dreadful July day divide the community. A member of the Islamic center spoke near the end, and when he was finished, the crowd clapped and cheered.
Vigils were held. Prayers were said. It was a community coming together in compassion rather than hatred.
"The way that we responded inspired me and people all across the country," Berke said, adding that he was asked by the U.S. Department of State to talk about the attacks to communities around the world, including in Antalya, Turkey.
He also got involved with the Strong Cities Network, a group launched by the United Nations in 2015 to help cities counter terrorism and extremism.
But he said more work was needed here locally. So that is why he decided to form the Council Against Hate.
Council members consulted with representatives of the Anti-Defamation League to form a basis for a strategy to combat hate here in Chattanooga, as well as learn about national and regional trends in hate and extremism.
"It was exciting to us that the mayor wanted to put together this council and convene a group of people to say, 'We, as the city of Chattanooga, want to make a really strong statement that hate is not going to be tolerated in our community," said Shelley Rose, the deputy regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The council will host a public meeting on its findings Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at The Camp House on M.L. King Boulevard. The public is invited.
Former Charlottesville, Virginia, Mayor Mike Signer will also be at the meeting to share insight from what he and his city learned in the wake of the Unite the Right rally that left one woman dead in 2017.
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