America is having a racial reckoning, and in many ways this is good — even wonderful.
Mississippi is removing a likeness of the Confederate flag from its state banner and becoming the final U.S. state with the divisive symbol in its flag to make such a move. Georgia last week approved and the governor signed state hate crimes legislation, leaving only three states now without hate crime laws. Police officers in Minnesota and Georgia and other states are facing prosecution for brutality — even murder — of Blacks who were injured or killed unnecessarily in their custody.
But in many ways the backlash pendulum swings in the other direction. We're only halfway through this crazy year of hate in America, and we've already seen too much vitriol and heard too much yelling.
What's worse, much of it emanates from our White House. Day after day. Sometimes hour after hour.
Donald Trump's hatefulness, just last week calling the planned painting of "Black Lives Matter" on New York's Fifth Avenue — or one would assume on any street, like Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in front of the Bessie Smith Hall in Chattanooga where a similar street mural was installed last week — "a symbol of hate."
Mr. President, if the street mural said "White Lives Matter" or "Russian Lives Matter" or "Appalachian Lives Matter," would you see it as a "symbol of hate?" Would you still have a problem with it? Would Chattanooga?
Of course not.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ordered the New York tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, has acknowledged that the street mural's location near Trump Tower was a deliberate dig at Trump. That's unfortunate: Trump doesn't need goading to help him be stupid, and de Blasio shouldn't provide assistance.
The right thing that de Blasio tweeted back to Trump, however, after Trump added that New York street sign was "denigrating this luxury Avenue" was priceless.
"Black people BUILT 5th Ave and so much of this nation. ... Your 'luxury' came from THEIR labor. ... We are honoring them. The fact that you see it as denigrating your street is the definition of racism," wrote the New York mayor.
Protests do not equal hate. Protests are part of the fabric of America. We've been protesting since we threw British tea into Boston Harbor.
Hate, on the other hand, can prompt protests. Especially when that hate erupts into violence. We saw it in Charlottesville when white nationalists protesting calls to remove Confederate statues marched with torches around a likeness of Robert E. Lee and chanted,"Blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us." That march the next day turned into street fights and the death of a counter-protester.
We saw snippets of that hate here and elsewhere in the nation in the aftermath of the May deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis under the knee of a police officer and of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, shot in the back as he ran from officers who had tried to handcuff him with no arrest warning.
Luckily we've seen no deaths from our local protests. We can credit Chattanooga police efforts to show solidarity and work quickly and quietly in most cases to quell anger on the streets.
On the other hand, we seen little of the sort from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department. Instead, we've seen video of a handcuffed Black man whose car had broken down beaten for the crime of walking the wrong way on a suburban street after asking a woman there how to get out of the neighborhood. Beaten for at least four minutes by five white officers even as he lay on the ground begging them to stop.
Black lives do matter. So do white ones. And blue ones. Why do we have a problem saying any one of those things?
Chattanooga has quite a history of hate. Cross burnings on Signal Mountain even as recently as 1980 not long after a group of Blacks were fired on by whites in a Broad Street drive-by shooting. Just five years ago, we were the scene of an international hate crime when a man the FBI determined was a homegrown terrorist "motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda" killed Marines and a Navy sailor in two attacks on local military recruiting facilities. The terrorist, who grew up here and graduated from Red Bank High School, was later killed in a gun battle with police. The servicemen became known as Chattanooga's Fallen Five.
Chattanooga Times columnist Deborah Levine begins her new book, "When Hate Groups March Down Main Street: Engaging a Community Response," with our Fallen Five and an analysis of how the community came together to cope. The book also uses other examples from other cities — all to make a how-to case for coaching community healing.
Since the Fallen Five, Chattanooga has nurtured a city-sponsored Mayor's Council Against Hate, and in the past year instituted a Police Advisory and Review Committee.
Now Hamilton County Commissioner Katherlyn Geter is calling for a long-overdue county version, an Equity Task Force, to look at systematic inequality countywide.
"It would be a way ... for us to step up to the issues of the day and engage the public" with a focus on criminal justice and law enforcement, but also include education, housing and health, Geter said. The commission will take up the idea on July 15.
Imagine that. Equity. All lives matter.