Activist and Chattanooga City Council candidate Marie Mott, a leader of the local George Floyd protest movement, took to Facebook on Friday morning to admit to removing the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office flag from in front of the downtown jail and then burning it during a protest Thursday evening.
"I took the flag that belongs to the sheriff down from the flagpole in front of the county jail and I burned it," Mott says in the 38-minute video.
While Mott and fellow activist Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams have made social media posts claiming that warrants have been taken out for their arrest, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Matt Lea said that, as of Friday late afternoon, that was untrue.
"There have been no charges filed at this time regarding this incident," Lea wrote in an email. "We are aware of the incident in question and what transpired during the course of the protest. Presently, I do not have any additional details I can offer at this time."
Mott did not respond to a request for comment, and Williams declined to comment beyond what he shared on Facebook.
"If they arrest me I just want y'all to know I feel great physically," Williams said. "I am COVID free, so if they try to say I contracted COVID and died, if they try to say I had an episode and hung myself with some s— — or any of that s— — is untrue, man. You know how they did Sandra Bland and others I just want to let everybody know I'm in a good mind state. I'm fine, and if they try to murder us, that's what it is."
In her Facebook video, Mott said she took down the flag because she "got tired of seeing that flag flying in the wind knowing that right behind that flag there are black, brown and poor bodies being funneled into our jails. But we have white people who can openly decide to break the law and will not be cited for spreading a virus that is killing so many."
Beginning Friday, an executive order took effect requiring Hamilton County residents to wear a mask in most public situations to avoid the spread of COVID-19, or potentially face a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
Sheriff Jim Hammond said on Tuesday that his deputies will not "harass" residents and will issue warnings when possible. And Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy said on Thursday that his officers will not issue citations for those who don't wear a mask, though he strongly encouraged everyone to wear one.
When asked on Twitter whether he supported Roddy's move, retired Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher said he did and explained why.
"Its unreasonable to ask police to enforce an order with so many exceptions," he wrote. "Police can't & shouldn't be deciding on things like valid medical conditions, 'developmental disabilities'., etc."
"It's another example of community leaders asking police to do too much & do things best suited for others," he added. "It overcriminalizes a public health issue during a health crisis already impacting people negatively — including financially — and would harm the poorest the most."
For Mott, though, the move isn't just.
"[Roddy] doesn't have to enforce the law, and yet he arrested, black and brown and white protesters who decided to stand up against racial injustice and police brutality and murder," she said. "So he will arrest us, but will not arrest people who openly rebel in the middle of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Latinx individuals and Black people.
"It is egregious."
"You chargin' me? I'm not afraid to go to jail," she added. "It's a misdemeanor. And when you send me in, I will be like the Apostle Paul. I will go in singing the praises unto God."
It's not clear what, if any, charges would arise. The punishment for vandalism is the same as the punishment for theft, according to state law, which is graded by the value of the property that was taken.
"You cannot be a rebel if you're not willing to get in trouble," Mott said in the video.
Staff Writer Patrick Filbin contributed to this story.
Contact Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.