A "Good Trouble" rally scheduled for Miller Park on Friday night has been relocated after Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke asked the group to move, citing COVID-19 restrictions.
Unity Group Corresponding Secretary Eric Atkins said in a statement that the 6:30 p.m. event has been moved to Community Haven, 815 N. Hickory St.
Under consistent executive orders from the mayor since March, Berke told the organizers of the Atlanta-based Good Trouble Freedom Ride that they could not be permitted to gather in Miller Park for the Chattanooga stop of a three-part southern tour to celebrate the legacy of civil rights giant John Lewis.
"We have had a rule that says we can have not more than 10 people in the executive orders that I'm signing. We reached out to the organizers and let them know that was the case," Berke said in a virtual news conference on Friday. "We've been consistent in saying that we do not want those large events on our property."
The caravan of activists honoring Lewis and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act traveled from Atlanta to Louisville — the home of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in March — and is scheduled to come through Chattanooga, where activists have been protesting the police killings of Taylor and others all summer, heightened locally by the case of Reginald Arrington, struck repeatedly by the batons of Hamilton county sheriff's deputies.
"Rep. Lewis was an original freedom rider, and was adamant if you see something that is unfair, unjust, not right, that you have a moral obligation to stand up, speak out, get in the way and to get into good trouble, necessary trouble. Fifty-five years later, we must demand fair voting and electoral practices and get into good trouble. Much of this is also written in our community impact statement on MLK Week," a release by local equality organization Unity Group says. "We must stand on the principles of nonviolence and help to build up and plant atop solid ground."
The decision comes after weeks of uninterrupted protests in the park by other local organizations that drew crowds ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred activists who marched the streets, often gathering at Miller or other city parks for hours at a time.
No events larger than 10 people were given permits in the city due to the virus, according to Berke.
"Nothing that has happened in Miller Park or elsewhere has been permitted," Berke added. "My understanding is that they moved this event elsewhere and we appreciate the fact that they have been sensitive to our request."
Communications Director Richel Albright added that Berke's decision was consistent with his treatment of other groups.
"Our communication with all groups, including this one, has been consistent from the beginning — since March 13, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus among high risk populations, we are not granting formal permits to gatherings of more than 10 people on city property," She wrote in a text to the Times Free Press Friday. "In this particular instance, the organizers appeared to make a decision to relocate to private property, but you would have to ask them about their reason for doing so."
Still, Chattanoogans have gathered en masse with events ranging from other unpermitted protests, a traveling carnival that obtained a business permit rather than an event permit and a Republican dinner held at the Chattanooga Convention Center just last week, where local mask requirements were ignored and at least one of the hundreds of attendees later tested positive for the virus.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.