Cook: Black protest, white silence and the future of a sheriff

Cook: Black protest, white silence and the future of a sheriff

September 8th, 2019 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Rev. Tim Careathers, center, reads a prepared statement to the media on the steps of the Hamilton County Chattanooga Courts Building at noon Monday. Area pastors and ministers called for District Attorney Neal Pinkston to fire Hamilton County Sheriff, and a deputy, for refusal to protect citizens and failure to control officers. Minister Kevin Muhammad, right, and the Rev. Paul McDaniel, third from right, flank the Westside Baptist pastor.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Correction: A previous version of this column attributed a specific quote to a PatriotPost commentator, but it should be attributed to a PatriotPost reader.

In July, a group of 50 suit-and-tie African-American preachers, ministers and supporters stood outside the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, declaring it was time for Jim Hammond to resign.

For them, the moment had been a long time coming. A black man died from a roadside choke-hold in the 90s. (The officers involved were exonerated.) A black man died in county custody last year. In December, a video surfaced of a handcuffed and beaten black man. Then came a July roadside video of another handcuffed black man being probed and strip-searched.

"Your department is terrorizing black bodies," they said.

In August, they returned again to the steps of the Hamilton County Chattanooga Courts Building, asking the district attorney and governor to intervene.

"So that citizens are protected from abuse at the hands of the hired protector," they said in an open letter to Gov. Bill Lee.

Their courthouse declaration and open letter were met with silence.

During his campaign, Gov. Lee met with many of these same ministers, bending his knee, asking for votes.

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Yet now, he is silent.

"A time comes when silence is betrayal," Dr. King once said.

Days ago, the silence was replaced by ridicule and derision.

"Race-baiting agitators," wrote Patrick Hampton, vice president for the nonprofit Hamilton Flourishing, on the local website PatriotPost. "Race hustlers."

To Hampton, an African-American man who claims to be conservative, the ministers were concerned over nothing.

"The usual race-baiters have their panties in a wad," he wrote.

Others agreed.

"Band of losers," wrote columnist Roy Exum on Chattanoogan.com. "Trouble has been their magnet, hatred has been their compass."

(Band of losers? My God, the Rev. Paul McDaniel was in that crowd. You call him a loser?)

Instead of worrying about the sheriff, Hampton and Exum said, the ministers should go fix their own community. Get your people to stop shooting one another.

"If the Black people can't control themselves and respect the police that are trying to make them safe then why should the police respond to any calls in those neighborhoods? Let them sink in their own mire," one PatriotPost reader commented.

They emphasized the past criminal record of Myron Mitchell, the 41-year-old who was pants-down searched on the roadside, suggesting that somehow he was at fault in his own violation.

Then, Hammond spoke up.

"What the pastors need to concentrate on doing is helping us make sure people understand when the police pull over, you should comply with them," he told WDEF. "Follow the rules — let the system work."

Let's pause here, and notice a few things.

Notice the ease within some white Chattanoogans who believe they can lecture black men on their place.

Notice the audacity that patronizes and chides African-Americans on exactly how they should speak or what they should speak about. This is overseer language.

Just sit down and follow the rules — let the system work.

Band of losers.

Let them sink in their own mire.

Don't get out of line.

Don't get uppity.

Don't forget your place.

This is the curse of respectability politics, the poison that believes our county's black men are only worthwhile and valuable once they become respectable. Once they, you know, pull their pants up. Once they, you know, act white.

In such a world, up becomes down and down up.

It normalizes that which should never be normalized — that somehow it's justified for black citizens to get beaten by cops or imprisoned at hyper-cruel rates — all of which fuels the slow erosion of the black body as a temple of God into, well, something to arrest.

"We need to run them out of town, put them in jail or send them to the funeral home," Hammond told civic leaders in 2012.

He was speaking about gang members, which really means he was speaking about young black men. Young black husbands. Young black fathers. Young black sons.

Why is the demand for Hammond's resignation seen by some as a worse sin than white police beating a handcuffed black man?

Why is the theological call to protect and love black men from white abuse seen as hatred?

Why is black protest in this county deemed more offensive than white silence?

Days ago, a Chattanooga police officer admitted to raping multiple women in this city.

There is an investigation into whether or not police leaders tried to cover-up the officer's crimes.

Weeks ago, two African-American women — city councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod and activist Marie Mott — demanded investigation at a time when few other public voices did.

For doing so, they were both ignored and criticized.

Just sit down — and follow the rules.

Like the courthouse ministers, they said, quite clearly:

No.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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