More than 250 Chattanoogans were pleading with the City Council on Tuesday night to address policing issues at a marathon budget hearing.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. Tuesday and was still going hours later, when 76 of the 257 registered public speakers had addressed the council, all calling for the city to divest from the Chattanooga Police Department's $71 million budget and to reinvest in underrepresented communities and social programs.
After 10 consecutive nights of protests and marches throughout the city in response to a national outcry against police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, hundreds of Chattanoogans spent their night of rest advocating for the council to vote against the proposed 2021 budget in order to re-prioritize funding.
"There are tangible ways to address these disparities, and they do not involve the police. You are all public servants. That means that your titles and job descriptions demand that you serve the public," speaker Jayla Cabrera McDonald said. "The only way to work towards serving the public is to defund the police and reallocate the money to support health care, housing and education.
"We must not only defund the police, but abolish them. They have no place in Chattanooga, or world," she said. "We demand your support and solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Thank you for your time."
Cabrera's views of partially or completely defunding the police were unanimously echoed by scores of her peers representing all nine council districts during Tuesday's online meeting. Speaker Malcolm Allen said the city's written budget goal of "breaking down the barriers that prevent people from living the lives they want in our community" was inspirational, but not reflected in the budget.
"That statement is just patently untrue," Allen said. "It is hard to believe that we truly believe in this mission when so much of our city's money is going to the police department, and so many other areas are given peanuts and scraps."
Funding public schools, releasing non-violent offenders from jail, the recent use of tear gas by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office against protesters and other county issues out of the jurisdiction of the council were also common themes.
Every speaker proposed reallocating money into Youth and Family Development, public transportation and other community programs.
"I'm hearing the message over and over again, and I've been making a lot of notes about divesting in the public safety area and investing in our public transportation, the education programs that would come through our youth and family development centers ... and the last one is social services," Budget and Finance Committee Chairwoman Carol Berz said, encouraging citizens to reach out to council members after the lengthy meeting.
"We're not going to cut you off. However, if you have other issues, please let us know. And if for any reason you run out of time, please let your council person hear the rest of your conversation."
Each participant of the hearing was given two minutes to speak, which could result in the meeting running well into the early morning hours of Wednesday.
To accommodate speakers, all purchasing items on the agenda were delayed to next week's meeting.
Protest organizer, council candidate and activist Marie Mott, who rallied protest participants to address the council meeting, told the Times Free Press early Tuesday that the protests will not stop until the demonstrators' demands, including divesting the police department, are met.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.