Members of Chattanooga clergy have joined protesters in calling on the city council to recreate the city budget, including divesting from the police and increasing money spent in black communities.
More than 30 faith leaders signed the statement submitted to the council before Tuesday night's meeting. The group said it stands in solidarity with protesters who for weeks have gathered in Chattanooga's streets to demand change to local policing.
"We call on Mayor [Andy] Berke to restructure the city budget, to divest from ineffective and unjust policing, invest in Black and Brown communities with a participatory budget that includes the community organizers asking for these demands," the group said in its letter.
This week, Berke unveiled an "alternative budget" that moved several departments away from Chattanooga police to the new Office of Community Resilience. The Family Justice Center and some of the work of the Office of Public Safety will be in the new department, as well as $150,000 in support from the Office of the Chief of Police.
Local activists said the mayor's announcement showed "little commitment" to the demands of those calling for change.
On Tuesday, the city council passed Berke's amended 2021 budget, the first of two required votes. The council later stopped public comment after one hour, after about 30 of the 209 people signed up to speak had done so.
Activists, as well as clergy, had asked the council to delay passing the budget so there could be more community input.
The Rev. Laura Becker, pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church, was among those unable to speak Tuesday night. She planned to tell the council that her role as a pastor means advocating for justice on behalf of the marginalized and that the city must do better.
"I am grateful for the community organizers who have taken the lead and the countless others who have joined them in seeking justice and equity for all people," Becker prepared to say in her statement. "The people are speaking, and I urge you to listen."
Before the Tuesday meeting, the Unity Group of Chattanooga joined the call to pause budget discussion, saying there needs to be more weight given to the needs and voices of those in the community who have been neglected and underserved.
Following the council's vote, members of the Unity group issued a statement, saying they were "disturbed and saddened at the sad and sordid display."
"To willfully and deliberately engage in suppressing and silencing the voices of the citizens of this community, and denying them their right to air grievances and bring petitions before the elected deliberative body of this City was shameful and an outright and blatant act of malfeasance," the group said.
The Hamilton County Commission was also criticized for cutting off public comment during a meeting last week.
In the past week, local faith leaders have become increasingly vocal about the need to address racism in the city. During a Tuesday night gathering in Miller Park, more than a dozen pastors said white Americans have been "silent and complicit" in centuries of racism and called on white residents to do more to address racial oppression.
Kingdom Partners, the group that hosted the event in Miller Park, will host a virtual town hall Thursday night with Berke, Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy and Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.
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