Mayor Andy Berke pledged to review policing policies in Chattanooga as well as prevent negative interactions between police and protesters during a video call with reporters Friday.
The Chattanooga mayor spoke to reporters after six days of protests in Chattanooga over the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. Berke announced that he intended to sign former President Barack Obama's commitment-to-action pledge to review the city's use of force policies.
In a nationwide address, Obama weighed in on the wave of unrest and racial tension across the nation Wednesday and urged mayors, city councils and police oversight bodies to review police use-of-force policies and make other reforms to combat racism.
"We have seen this week protests in our city every day about the senseless and unjust killing of George Floyd, along with the history both over the past few weeks and over the entire course of our country's history, and this has really brought these police issues to the core for many people in our community. But for others in our community, particularly black Chattanoogans, this has been central to them for a long time," Berke told reporters. "What I want everybody to know is that the city of Chattanooga and our government has been working on this for the past several years."
Berke noted the creation of a citizen oversight board for the city's police department in 2019 as well as ongoing efforts to recruit black cadets and ensure cadets-in-training are exposed to marginalized communities.
Chattanooga is not a stranger to accusations of police brutality. After Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy spoke on out on Twitter about the actions of the Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, that resulted in the death of Floyd, he came under some scrutiny from some who called the tweet hypocritical and pointed to local departments' own cases of alleged police brutality.
Berke said that interactions between protesters and police this week — which have largely been peaceful, even when Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies deployed tear gas on a crowd of hundreds of protesters Sunday — demonstrate the culture that he and Roddy are trying to establish in the city's police department.
"I think you've seen this week that the culture we are trying to build with our police department is clear. It's one of collaboration, not confrontation," Berke said. "We want to make sure we have as few negative interactions and certainly as few as possible physical interactions between police and people."
These efforts are among the reasons why Berke has been resistant to ordering a curfew, like many cities have this week. Some protests have lasted well into early morning hours in Chattanooga, but Berke said talk of a curfew has died down as protests have remained peaceful.
"The other thing about a curfew is it has the potential to create another negative contraction between police and residents," Berke said. "I understand why curfews are talked about. We want people to be safe, but what I know is that the issue here involves the trust of our community an our police department."
He did address two arrests this week involving heavily-armed individuals near protests and said the presence of heavily-armed people near or alongside protesters is unacceptable.
Chattanooga police arrested a 35-year-old man who was standing on the roof of a building along the local George Floyd protest route with multiple firearms, including a loaded AK-47, on Wednesday evening as well as a 29-year-old on Monday when police found a disassembled AR-15 concealed in his backpack and multiple AR-15 magazines, two of which were loaded and easily accessible to him.
"There is no reason for someone to be around these protests with an AK-47. Period. There is no reason for that. People are and can express their point of view in a peaceful way. They have every right to do that. Its how we have made our country a better place over the course of our history. There is no reason for people to have semiautomatic guns, long range rifles, anywhere near these protests," Berke said.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.