The Chattanooga NAACP is demanding an apology from Hamilton County district attorney candidate Coty Wamp after comments she made this week about the group's treatment of law enforcement officers.
In an audio clip from a Tuesday event obtained by the Times Free Press, which Wamp said was released by incumbent DA and fellow Republican Neal Pinkston, she said she cannot completely support the organization for its alleged failure to properly treat police.
"I don't think any (police officers) would think we are against the police," said Rev. Ann Pierre, Chattanooga NAACP president, in a Friday phone interview. "We have police officers who are members of the NAACP. Those statements were just not true. How in the world would you think we're not for the police? We're not supportive of bad actors."
Pierre went on to say the organization recognizes officers for community service annually and that even though Wamp doesn't have experience living as a Black person, if she's elected, she'd have to "widen her lens" and begin to put herself in the population's shoes.
In the 43-second audio clip of Wamp speaking at an event where she noted that she was unable to attend an NAACP-hosted candidate forum that same day, she accused the organization of mistreating police officers and not presenting adequate statistics of crime.
"The NAACP has accomplished some good things in the last 100 years, but one of them is not the way they've treated law enforcement," she said. "And I just can't stand behind it right now. They have the statistics about how many African Americans are shot by police every year, but they don't have the statistics on how many African Americans are shot by African Americans or how many police officers are shot by anybody."
On the issue of crime classifications, Pierre said that there is no Black-on-Black or white-on-white crime, just crime itself. In addition, any statistics put on the website are to deal with specific issues, not to "go against anyone."
"We've been [an organization] for over 100 years," Pierre said. "But if you know that, then you could not say something like the NAACP is against the police, because we're not."
During a Friday sitdown interview with reporters, Wamp said she specifically opposes the NAACP stance on ending qualified immunity for police offers.
The organization supports completely ending qualified immunity, a legal principle that they argue shields officers from being held responsible for misconduct because it requires it to be proven that an officer's actions violated someone's constitutional rights.
Wamp added she "will not apologize and will not shy away from" her statements while also emphasizing her support of the Black community.
"One of the main reasons I'm running for office is to help the Black community in this city," Wamp said. "I've committed to the Black community more than I have any other community in this county, period. I am close with a lot of African Americans I'm not hiding from anybody. Nobody has been more victimized by violent crimes than the Black community. Nobody needs more assistance from their district attorney's office. That's why I'm running."
Wamp said Pinkston had leaked the audio of Tuesday's event, and she provided a screenshot of a text from Pinkston that she said he accidentally sent to her Wednesday.
"So coty skipped the NAACP debate last night and spoke to a group at Wally's in East Ridge," said the text, not edited for spelling or other errors. "It was recorded. I should have the recording by 1pm today."
Amanda Morrison, spokesperson for Pinkston's campaign, in a Friday phone interview said the district attorney has made it clear that he did not leak any sort of audio but was made aware of its existence.
"The campaign has been very quiet about anything dealing with Ms. Wamp and focuses solely on General Pinkston's accomplishments and nearly 20 years of experience," Morrison said, adding that the position should not be politically motivated. "I think the campaign's role is to encourage people to understand that Neal has experience, he has integrity and he has sound judgment."
Pinkston's campaign noted that, in 2019, he was awarded the local NAACP's Thurgood Marshall Award in the area of law enforcement for civil rights and community activism.
Wamp on Friday said Pinkston was simply playing political games and creating a "diversion" from issues that have come up during his own campaign, such as the Tennessee state comptroller releasing a report that said Pinkston broke the state's nepotism law by employing his wife and brother-in-law.
"Our district attorney is trying to use the NAACP to be even more divisive," Wamp said. "This is not about race. And for a politician who is losing a race, who is losing his job, losing his credibility throughout this community for him to be involved in any type of political shenanigan like this, that tries to divide people in this community based on race, is absolutely disgusting."
Wamp added she is attempting to obtain audio of the entire speech, not just 43 seconds. At Wally's, she was addressing the Tennessee Valley Republican Women during an event that lasted 40 minutes and included conversations with African American voters, she said.
Wamp also shared text messages between herself and NAACP leadership in which she explained she would not be able to attend the organization's event ahead of time and said she would like to be asked again after the May primary election.
That was the only time that she has communicated with the organization and has not heard from them since, she said Friday.
The primary election will take place May 3, with Pinkston and Wamp being the only Republicans on the ballot.
Democrat John Allen Brooks is also running, but he is unopposed in the primary.
The voter registration deadline for the primary election is April 4. Early voting will take place between April 13 and April 28, and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is April 26. The winners from the party primaries will meet in the general election in August.