This story was updated Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. to correct the misspelling of Chattanooga in the headline.
Chattanooga police moved a mobile surveillance camera to watch over private property during a Good Trouble rally on Friday, after organizers moved the event from a city park at the request of the city. Organizers say this was a continued sign of disrespect for the Black activists.
The day of the rally, city officials told organizers they would not be permitted to meet on city property amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so the group of local and out-of-town activists moved it to a private property in East Chattanooga, rather than Miller Park downtown.
Then, according to Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman Elisa Myzal, police moved a mobile camera unit to the corner of the property where they do not have regular surveillance.
"That's why that was moved, because we don't have any permanent or more permanent ones, like a pole-mounted one, in that area," Myzal said. "It's just like a pole-mounted one or any other public safety camera, and that's its only purpose. I mean, we could put the camera there or we could put more cops."
Organizers noticed and criticized the orange trailer-mounted surveillance camera during the gathering, which was moved to the Community Haven in compliance with an executive order by Mayor Andy Berke that has been in effect since March.
"[This is] a city that houses the Chattanooga Police Department, who fails to surveil and hold their own officers accountable for the rape of our women and sisters, but can find the time to place a camera outside of this gathering to surveil us in this space. And we believe they are all of a sudden concerned about our health and safety," the Rev. Timothy Careathers of Westside Missionary Baptist Church said. "Their disdain for black agency had them strongly discourage us from convening on their property that your tax dollars aided in paying for, while at the same time somebody authorized cameras to come where we are today."
Organizer and City Council candidate Marie Mott said that the camera and the last-minute request to move the event both show a disregard for Black activists in the city.
"The city was just completely disrespectful to us as Black organizers," she said, citing other events that took place on public property recently, though none were legally permitted. "So not only are you not going to let us protest, but then we're on private property that's owned by Black people in the heart of a Black district and you guys move a portable surveillance camera. Why are you surveilling Black activism?"
Myzal said that is standard procedure for large outdoor gatherings in the city.
"It's not atypical for us to use that [camera] at a larger outdoor event. Like it's been used at [the] Moon River [festival]. It would be used at Riverbend, except there wasn't a Riverbend this year," Myzal explained. "And initially we heard [the protest] would be up to 500 people."
Mott said that's an unfair comparison, since Riverbend is a large event with alcohol on public property and this was activism on private land.
"So, there there are reasons why there might need to be surveillance at a public event and one of the largest in Chattanooga, but this is private property and this is for social justice," Mott said. "Nobody was getting drunk, everybody had a mask on, and you were required to have a mask if you were going to be in the space. We were being extremely responsible, even though we were gathering in mass. So, even the comparison is oranges to apples."
Neither the Moon River nor the Riverbend Festival took place on private property.
The owner of the Community Haven property was not available for comment.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor