The Chattanooga City Council passed the city's budget for the 2021 fiscal year on Tuesday without further discussion following weeks of opposition from activists.
Hundreds of residents flooded the council's virtual meetings for the last two weeks, pleading with the city's legislative body to divest from the Chattanooga Police Department as calls to "defund" police grew across the country in response to police brutality.
"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," Jayla Cabrera McDonald said at a June budget hearing.
"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."
Eight of the council's nine members voted to approve the budget, once last week and once on Tuesday. The document was amended last week to move about $2 million in programs from the $70 million police budget to the newly established Office of Community Resilience in response to community complaints.
"I do not believe that we should defund the police," Mayor Andy Berke said last week. "We need a skilled, highly trained, collaborative department that uses the best rules so that we can keep people as safe as possible."
The fund shift did not meet activists' demands, and in fact spurred more pushback and even a failed petition for a court-ordered injunction against the budget by a concerned citizen.
"We have been dealing with a lot of stuff, between COVID-19 and the George Floyd horrible situation that has spurred an incredible amount of conversation. And I look so forward again to leading on this, and I think that [Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy] is the person to help us and I think this council stands to do so," Councilman Darrin Ledford said during the first vote. "I know our country is hurting and our city is at unrest destruction, revenge, abolishment of our police department is not an option, or a reasonable solution. The outcome is chaos."
While there was no additional council discussion about the budget, Anthony Byrd, the one council member who voted against the budget each time, wore a T-shirt reading "Defund Raci$m" as he cast his dissenting vote.
According to Vice Chairman Ken Smith, 33 people were signed up to speak at the Tuesday meeting, a fraction of the turnout at the previous two council meetings where around 450 people total registered to speak.
Speakers were to be limited to two minutes each and were not given a cap on the number of participants after criticism last week.
Just minutes before Tuesday's meeting began a group of 12 Chattanooga clergy delivered a message to the council, saying the elected officials were choosing to be complicit with a system that diminishes Black lives.
The Rev. Charlotte S.N.N. Williams, pastor of the Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church, said the public had followed the process to make their voices heard and the council members ignored the voices.
Despite the budget moving forward, clergy will continue to seek justice for their communities, Williams said.
"To the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, we are committed to end your brutality and terrorism. We are committed to find justice against your out-of-control brutality and killing in our communities. It is time that we stop excusing, enabling, sanctifying and protecting 'bad apples' who are indeed the most violent gang members in our communities."
On Monday, more than 30 local faith leaders signed a letter to the council asking them to listen to those protesting and delay the budget vote for a week.
Staff writer Wyatt Massey contributed to this report.
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