Less than two weeks after a local man came forward with what proved to be a misleading story about being attacked downtown by a group of young Black men, nine people were shot and three killed over the weekend. Seven women were shot in a single incident.
The story of Stuart Doster and the killing of three Chattanoogans are different issues with a common denominator — violent crime. In Doster's case, misrepresenting any crime does a disservice to public safety and the hardworking members of law enforcement.
I was among hundreds of Chattanoogans who shared Doster's account on social media just six days after another young father was shot near Main Street in an armed robbery. When a police investigation revealed inconsistencies in Doster's story along with important facts that he had been drinking and appeared to initiate a fight, many of the same people who have advocated defunding the police took the opportunity to further misconstrue the incident and downplay violence in Chattanooga altogether.
While Doster's initial claims were inappropriately embellished and omitted important details, CPD corroborated several aspects of his story — that he was punched multiple times, he was followed up Second Street and later "chased" back down the street by "juvenile African-American males."
It is uncomfortable for all who love Chattanooga — the "Gig City" and the "Best Town Ever" — to objectively talk about the rise in violent crime in our city, but the numbers speak for themselves. According to the FBI's crime database, violent crime increased 22% in Chattanooga from 2015 to 2019 despite decreases across the state of Tennessee in the same timeframe. According to the Chattanooga Police Department, violent crime rose another 11% from 2019 to 2020 and is on track to increase by double digits again in 2021.
Moving forward, it would be unwise to dismiss the surge of violent crime in our community or accept a culture in which victims of violent crimes are not believed.
Violent crime in Chattanooga disproportionately affects our Black citizens, and they deserve strong action from local government. FBI data shows that 55% of violent crimes in Chattanooga are committed against African Americans, who make up 29% of the city's population. Sixty percent of violent crime locally is committed by African Americans, data show.
When searching for solutions, it is impossible to ignore the ineffectiveness of some of our high schools as a contributing factor to crime in Chattanooga. The state's most recent data shows that 5.1% of Howard students perform at grade level, 6.8% at Brainerd and 10.9 percent at Tyner. Black students at Chattanooga State have a three-year graduation rate of 9.5% and a two-year graduation rate of just 5.5%. The recent announcement of a partnership between Chattanooga State and CARTA is an example of changes that can address barriers like transportation for Black students, but it's near impossible for traditional colleges to compensate for a lousy K-12 experience.
As a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees our state's 40 technical and community colleges, I have come to believe that career and technical training is among the most effective tools we have in offering young Black Chattanoogans a path to dignified work, greatly reducing the odds they commit or are the victim of a violent crime. The planned Building and Construction Workforce Center in Avondale is the most significant step in that direction in years. This new trade school will be managed in part by TCAT-Chattanooga, the Board of Regents' technical college here in our community. TCAT-Chattanooga will break ground on a new facility next year that will transform how young people in Hamilton County are introduced to careers in the trades.
Reducing violent crime in Chattanooga will require a long-term strategy and ultimately a commitment to reforms in public education. In the meantime, we cannot afford to make the politically correct mistake of diminishing the growing presence of violent crime in our community.
Weston Wamp, the founder of the Millennial Debt Foundation, is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents.