A peaceful, rain-soaked women’s rally in Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park ended with controversy when five participants leading an impromptu march were arrested by Chattanooga Police.
“The Chattanooga Police Department arrested five individuals who refused to move out of the roadway that was open to vehicle traffic,” according to a press release. “All arrested were participating in the Chattanooga Women's March and posed a danger to themselves, other pedestrians, drivers, and police who were in the area.”
The police released a video of the march from a street camera that shows footage of the march and the arrests. It also shows an angry motorist coming close to running over the participants just before slamming on the brakes.
The release continues:
The organizers of the Chattanooga Women's March stated that the 2019 event would be a rally in the park only and would not be doing the march portion of the event. The organizers did not obtain a permit to march. Therefore the roads, including Market Street, remained open to vehicles when marchers entered the roadway. Marchers were given multiple verbal commands by CPD Officers to continue their march on the sidewalk...
Organizers Believe LGBTQ Leaders Specifically Targeted
One of those arrested, Reverend Alaina Cobb of Chattanooga’s Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Centre, said that the five individuals chosen for arrest were likely targeted by Chattanooga Police for their social justice activism in Chattanooga. She also believes that the 2019 Chattanooga Women’s March was denied a no-cost march permit due to the city wanting to limit demonstrations requiring a potential police presence over the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday weekend.
“We don’t think that is right, nor does is respect the right of the people to protest,” Reverend Cobb told Out & About Nashville.
“(Civil protest) is how all change has been made in this country, she explained. “Our country was founded on protest and civil disobedience. We threw tea into a harbor, we rioted...that’s really how we became a nation. It has been the voice of the poor and the dispossessed since the beginning of this nation...To limit the ability to speak out because of an inability to pay an exorbitant fee of between $3000 to $5000 for a police presence (on a march) is something a lot of us were opposed to begin with.”
Though efforts were made to raise funds for a march permit, according to rally organizers, but the amount raised was not enough. The Reverend Cobb also believes that there was a strong opinion amongst many of the organizers that a police presence would not be welcomed.
“It is paying our oppressors to continue oppressing us,” Cobb said, and continued, “We are protesting, in part, the over-policing of communities...especially African-American communities and Queer communities. They want us to pay them to come out and do this job.”
Cobb said that there have been efforts in the past to coordinate with city officials in the use of trained volunteers to help guide a march and keep it safe, but were told that this would not be enough and the march permit was denied by the city.
So, they marched anyway.
Leaders Knowingly Chose 'Civil Disobedience'
“We made it clear to the people that were at the rally that if they were to take to the streets to protest in this way...it would be an act of civil disobedience,” Cobb said. They made it across the Market Street bridge from Coolidge Park below before Chattanooga police made their appearance in the video above.
The police release continues:
The arrested individuals refused or ignored officers' safety directions as they walked along the entire length of the Market Street Bridge. Once they exited the bridge, police were forced to remove some of the individuals from the roadway and place them under arrest. At that time, others who were previously non-compliant moved to the sidewalks and observed designated traffic signals...
“The people who were targeted for arrest were predominantly the speakers of the event or people who are LGBTQ+...those were the people who were snatched up,” according to Cobb.
She explained that herself and the four others arrested were likely singled out because all have a history of speaking out against excessive policing of the African-American and Queer communities in the Chattanooga city council. Three of the five are well known within the Tennessee Valley LGBTQ+ community as being vocal queer activists.
“I (cannot) think of another reason that they would pick up us and leave some of the others,” she followed. “I believe we were snatched up because we were openly LBGTQ+ and are openly leaders in our community. We made a decision to perform civil disobedience. We made it clear that nobody had to (march on the street)...they could stay on the sidewalk and support the people that were, but that was the decision that quite a few of the organizers (of the Women’s Rally) made.”
All five arrested were charged with obstructing the roadway, according to the release. They were processed and released on their own recognizance later in the day.
Police Assert Public Safety Motivated Arrests
"Chattanooga Police Officers were forced to take action in order to prevent anyone from being injured or worse (Saturday)," said Chief David Roddy in the release. "The Chattanooga Police Department supports community members who stand for things they care about, but it needs to be done in a way that does not pose a significant safety risk to the participants and others in and traveling through the area."
Another of the individuals arrested, long-time Southern LGBTQ+ activist Ginger Moss, spoke out on her Facebook page the day after with a few questions of her own:
Hello everyone, I'm on of the 5 arrested at yesterday's Chattanooga Women's rally and impromptu march.
I have calls to action, we need your voices heard.
Call (423) 425-6201
Chattanooga Mayors Office,
Ask three things
- Nashville had an impromptu Women's March yesterday and the Nashville mayor instructed Metro police to "Let it happen." Ask why Andy Berke did not do the same.
- Of the 20-25 people still standing in the street when we were surrounded by police cars, why were only LGBTQ activists arrested?
- Ask why the driver who charged the pedestrians was not given some kind of traffic citation at the time, and if they intend to identify him and bring more serious charges.
Call (423) 209-7000 Hamilton County Sheriff's office and ask Sheriff Jim Hammond why when Virginia Moss asked for an LGBTQ Liaison, she was told there is not one. It is 2019, and it did not go well for two of those arrested. The Sheriff's office needs to respond to Virginia Moss's request and reach out to LGBTQ leadership and remedy this now.
Why Civil Disobedience?
We asked Reverend Cobb why she felt an act of civil disobedience was necessary to close the 2019 Chattanooga’s Women’s March?
“Because it is a tactic used to highlight the issues that we were talking about,” she explained. “Civil Disobedience is not done just to cause people a headache...it is done to get people to take notice. To paraphrase Dr. King: if justice is unseen, if the call for justice is unheard...sit down in the streets. We believe that, in putting our bodies on the line, we (demonstrate) the severity and urgency of the matter.”
“Chattanooga has a history of not just abusing African-American women in our community, but also abusing women in general. We still have a man on the Chattanooga police force who has been accused of rape by at least four women that I know of in the line of duty. This is not okay. Where we are as a city is not okay. We don’t believe that we can change that without speaking out, and speaking out in a way that cannot be ignored.”