This story was updated at 7:53 p.m. on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, with more information.
Tensions surrounding policing in Chattanooga hit a new boiling point Wednesday after activists' demands regarding defunding of the police department were denied by city government.
City Hall was vandalized early Wednesday in response to the City Council's Tuesday night approval of the city's 2021 budget.
On Tuesday, the council voted 8-1 to give initial approval to the city's amended operational and capital budgets, which stirred activists who have been calling for the city to defund or significantly divest from the police department in recent weeks as hundreds have taken to the streets of Chattanooga nearly every night to protest police brutality.
The approved alternative budget introduced by Berke on Monday and reviewed by council Tuesday moves the Family Justice Center from the police department to a new Office of Community Resilience, which will oversee social work, recidivism reduction programs and other community interventions that do not require a uniformed police officer.
During the 2020 fiscal year, the city approved $73 million for police. From the total police funding, $669,597, or less than 1%, went to the Family Justice Center, according to data from the city of Chattanooga. Activists have asked for anywhere from $45 million to the entire police budget to be redirected to community programs, and the Berke transfer falls well short of that.
Around 7:30 Wednesday morning, police noticed the front stairs of the main city hall building, which houses the mayor's office and connects to the council building, were splattered with blood-red paint surrounding the words "inaction is murder" spelled out on banners.
Tensions in the already mobilized community grew after the budget vote and after more than 200 activists signed up to speak on the matter, but were limited to 1 hour of total public comment by council, following what members called crass and bullying remarks and memes about the council which cycled through social media after last week's 7.5-hour meeting on the subject.
On Wednesday, City Council Chairman Chip Henderson told the Times Free Press that the vandalism highlights the need for the council's decision.
"Actions like this reinforce the need for fully funding the CPD," he wrote Wednesday morning.
The unrest in Chattanooga echoes demonstrations across the country spurred by the case of 46-year-old George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
A Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman said police are investigating the vandalism.
"CPD officers are conducting an investigation into the vandalism that occurred at City Hall," Elisa Myzal wrote. "CPD has not received reports of vandalism at other city buildings overnight."
CPD says it is unable to release security footage from the building or provide details on suspects, including any connection between the vandalism and other recent activism, because it is part of an open investigation.
"Any video footage that may have been captured would not be available for public release at this time as this is an ongoing, open investigation," Myzal said. "Determining who, how many, and time of incident is all part of the ongoing investigation."
The mayor's office, which is located on the side where the vandalism occurred, declined to comment.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.