More than 100 people gathered in front of the Chattanooga Police Department's service center Saturday afternoon to show support for law enforcement.
The event, organized by resident Donny Case, featured community members carrying balloons and signs with messages such as "Back the Blue" and "Defend the Police."
"NoogaStrong," Case said of why he organized the rally. "They were heroes."
"There's not one there that wouldn't run into a line of fire. While everybody's running away, they are running to."
"They're getting a bad deal," Janice Williams, who also helped organize the event, said of police officers. "Every time you turn around, they're getting a bad deal, and they don't deserve it. People spit at them, they say horrible things to them. And there are a lot more good than there are bad, and right now, they seem to be public enemy No. 1 for everyone that has their volume turned up. And we just want to let them know there are people out here — we're not rioting, we're not causing a disturbance, but we support them.
"'Cause they got a tough job, and they don't get paid enough."
Williams' sentiment was echoed throughout the crowd. While some said they would support police no matter what, the majority who spoke to the Times Free Press said that, while those who committed bad acts should be held accountable, they didn't believe bad officers made up a majority of the force.
"I know there's 1 or 2 percent or whatever that have done some things that they shouldn't do, but I think that overall, 99% of the police get out there every morning and do a good job, and I'm behind it 100%," Ron Shumate said. "I think if there's a bad cop — or a bad anybody — they should be disciplined to the law, whatever the law says should happen to 'em. They're not above the law, like none of us are above the law, and I have no problem with that. Weed the bad ones out and then go on with our nation."
Some said they did not support the recent surge of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, but many others did, though they did not support riots and destruction of property.
"It's their First Amendment right to protest," Shumate said. "What I get upset [about] is when these protests turn into disasters and they start destroying things."
Williams said she'd like for there to be middle ground.
"Rather than screaming and destroying things, if people would sit down and act civilly — I don't know what the objective is, if you won't talk but you're gonna destroy," she said."We are one nation, period. We are one country. And to divide it isn't gonna be productive."
Protesters have taken to the streets in downtown Chattanooga nearly every evening since May 30, part of a worldwide movement to protest police brutality after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
During one evening of rest from marching, more than 250 residents pleaded with the Chattanooga City Council to divest from the city's police department's $71 million budget and to reinvest in underrepresented communities and social programs.
"[The meeting] started late at night. It went until real late at night, and it was on Zoom," Craig Fulton said. "The majority of people here have to go to work in the morning, or they're not gonna do Zoom, 'cause it's a pain in the butt. So what ended up calling into that meeting was a bunch of 20-somethings with no life experience. And that's what the city council heard, so now they're hearing from the rest of us who didn't make it to the meeting."
Fulton, who was keeping count of how many people showed up to the pro-law enforcement rally, said he's emailed City Council members to voice his support.
"I've said I realize some things need to change, however the total defunding is ludicrous," he said. "If anything, they need more money to hire better people, and to help weed out the morons that need to go. Because there are a few. A few."
Fulton said he thought the Chattanooga Police Department's level of accountability was acceptable, but that the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office "might need a hair more."
The sheriff's office has been embroiled in multiple cases of alleged brutality and misconduct in recent years, including one former deputy who has been indicted on 44 criminal charges, including six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape and nine counts of official oppression. He also is facing 10 lawsuits, one of which is a class action.
Just last week, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston released dashboard camera footage showing five Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies repeatedly striking a Black man in Ooltewah.
Four of the five deputies separately were involved in prior cases of alleged brutality, including at least two beatings and a deadly shooting.
Earlier this month, another deputy was back on duty less than a week after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he shot and killed a man in May following a brief pursuit. He was again involved in a vehicle pursuit on June 9, during which he fired his weapon. No one was injured in that case.
And earlier this year, the sheriff's office disclosed that its only server used to store dashboard camera videos suffered a "catastrophic data loss" that caused thousands of videos to disappear during software failure.
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