Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers passionately speaks about the Violence Reduction Initiative during a meeting in the City Council Building this week.

Racism races its ugly head

We've seen the best and worst and usual in Chattanooga this week.

We'll start with the worst;.

UTC Chancellor Steve Angle and UT system President Joe DiPietro found themselves having to denounce racism on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus after posters celebrating Black History Month and black history events by the Freshman Council were covered by fliers reading "Hitler was right" and depicting Adolf Hitler making his infamous salute.

The group that pasted the fliers over the posters, Vanguard America, is the white supremacist group best known for organizing the Charlottesville, Va., rally last August. UTC officials ordered the fliers and the posters they defaced removed under campus policy, noting that the white supremacist group did not have permission to post signs on campus.

"The University supports free speech but not by trampling on the rights of others. More importantly, the expression of such racist, hateful views [has] no place on our campus," Angle said in a statement.

What an ugly reality this brings to our local campus. Hate can find us everywhere.

In Knoxville, another white supremacist group, the Traditionalist Workers Party, plans to hold an event on the UT campus next weekend, according to The Washington Post. The group was not invited, but did follow UT policy for scheduling a free-speech event, according to a statement from DiPietro.

"The ugly reality is, extremist groups are actively organizing, targeting colleges and universities in an attempt to be heard and to grow their ranks," DiPietro said in a statement. "Hate groups also target some universities on the basis of their principles of inclusion and commitment to free speech."

Trae Cotton, UTC's new vice chancellor for student development, said Vanguard, too, would have the freedom to make their statement, but not without following UTC rules. "Freedom of speech does not mean 'I'm OK with it as long as I like what you are saying,' but this was an issue of vandalism," he said.

UTC's Student Government Association said it best: "Blatant racial hatred across the United States has been highlighted as a result of recent events. Unfortunately, UTC is not immune. We have a responsibility to facilitate conversations about how to deter hatred and embrace the diversity that exists on our campus and in our community."

We all have that responsibility.

The usual

Hamilton County's Board of Education takes the week's "usual" award.

On the happy side, the board enthusiastically greeted the Tennessee Department of Education's latest plan for Hamilton County's lowest-performing schools. That plan no longer includes a state takeover of Hamilton County's five worst schools, but it does include a county partnership with the state — one giving the state far more clout over the educational direction of Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary.

Until recently, the state had threatened to take over the five iZone schools after years of school district failures to raise student or teacher performance in them. The state had even given the county an extra $10 million to improve teaching programs there, but county school officials largely sat on the money, not spending it in those schools for years — until the deadline for improvement was nearly up.

On the more par-for-the-course side, the board fell into its normal state of confusion over next year's school calendar.

"This is a nightmare," said District 1 board member Rhonda Thurman as the board's members were presented a draft of next year's school calendar. "This starting and stopping and starting and stopping is just too much."

Her comments were largely echoed by two other board members present: Karitsa Mosley Jones and Steve Highlander. Board members Tiffianie Robinson and Kathy Lennon expressed similar concerns in emails. And they're all right.

The proposed calendar would start school on Aug. 8, a Wednesday, and give students a full week of "fall break" in October, another full week off at Thanksgiving, two weeks and two days off for Christmas break, the third week of March off for spring break and end the school year on May 23. The calendar also provides five full professional development days for teachers and removes Presidents Day as a day off.

In short, students would start school almost a month before Labor Day and have four weeks off by the New Year.

Another disconnect is that most parents will now have just a few days to weigh in on some of the proposed scheduling — primarily the Thanksgiving break and President's Day.

Fixing our gang problem

It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes money. Especially when we're talking about countering the gang influence on our young people.

Community members brought together by Chattanooga Councilman Anthony Byrd in a public meeting Thursday in the city council chambers agreed that a proposed $600,000 for two years of social services in Chattanooga's anti-gang effort, the Violence Reduction Initiative, is not enough. They also agreed that one social service agency working on the problem is not enough.

This is a promising start. Byrd succeeded in getting a strong community showing — complete with a number of representatives from existing, stable nonprofit organizations that can help — in one room for about two hours with no derisive yelling.

Now we'll see if he can get those community members to stay involved, contact their council and county commission representatives and focus on working together to keep attention on the issue and raise something closer to $1 million — even $2 million — with a plan for accountability.

We're pulling for him, and we hope you will, too.