A tearful Avery Gray recounts to entranced city council the arrest of her daughter in June, dragged by a city cop from a parked car downtown in a legally sketchy arrest.
Mrs. Gray cannot limit herself to a five-minute time slot, and with scarce acknowledgement of a beeping clock council members let her run long in accounting for the injuries her daughter suffered and a continuing trauma over police officers. Her 14-minute talk is followed by questions from members as she demands, “I pray you will do something about these police officers.”
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
Her narrative wins a strong expression of support from Ken Smith, the chairman, who says her distress will not be forgotten. Mrs. Gray also stirs conversation from council members Demetrus Coonrod and Anthony Byrd in favor of, as it were, somehow fitting gangland-style law enforcement into the flowing narrative of a future-oriented Gig City and better lives for its people.
But the council’s temper is akin to its chamber’s nonoperative sound system, which makes almost inaudible the muffled voices of elected reps that are interspersed with the droning read-alouds of resolutions up for a vote. Chattanooga city council, in other words, is quietly administrative and inward looking rather than boomingly governing, as Mrs. Gray implies its members should be.
A detonation about constitutional free speech rights ends the meeting.
Marie Mott, a host at 92.7 FM NoogaRadio, the Sean Hannity and CBS affiliate, demands the right to speak. She gets into a shouting match with Mr. Smith, who insists the twice-a-month rule be followed. Since the council ignores Miss Mott’s dare that an officer drag her away from the podium, it gives Miss Mott the slip, gaveling the meeting to a close. But in denying her a public forum for her rebuke, it chokes off others, too, who had wished to speak.
“There should not be an abridging of freedom of speech, to a limitation of two times,” Miss Mott says to Mr. Smith. “If you are doing that, sir, you are prohibiting people their freedom of speech, and you are participating in tyranny of government.”
Global notice of case
Mrs. Gray says her daughter’s smartphone video has been seen 6.3 million times and people from around the world have contacted the lifelong Chattanoogan about it.
“Basically, if I was out there in the parking lot and I grabbed my daughter like he grabbed my daughter,” Mrs. Gray says, “I’d’ve gone to jail for domestic assault. If I’d’ve left my daughter in the car, with it raining, with the windows up, and no keys, without the A/C on, which it still gets warm even though it’s raining, that’s child neglect; I would’ve gone to jail for child neglect.
“All I want to know is why? Can any of you answer that question for me? Why that officer could not come inside and get me, her mother, her guardian, and deal with me? Why are you dealing with a 14-year-old child?”
After the girl posted bond on a criminal charge, the mom took her to Children’s Hospital emergency room. “The doctor said this is very unacceptable. [Wright] sprained both my daughter’s wrists. He’s taken away her dreams in school. This is her freshman year in high school and she can’t play basketball. She has to go to physical therapy twice a week, so I have to work that into my schedule. She has knots up both arms the physical therapist is trying to fix. My daughter’s wrists were blue. *** Every time she see the police she be terrified.”
“All I want to know is why did this officer break the law — why was it OK for him to break the law and do this to my child and was not disciplined immediately.”
Mrs. Gray counters accusations that her daughter is ill-trained, defiant of authority and disobedient. “I taught my kids to have respect. I never taught my kids to disrespect a police officer or their elders. They was not raised that way. I was not raised that way.” She was charged because she moved too slowly for the officer’s commands, Mrs. Gray says.
A juvenile court magistrate dismissed the resisting arrest charge, which cannot be applied to anyone who does not use “force” while resisting stop, arrest or seizure by an officer.
Earlier Tuesday, Mrs. Gray and Miss Mott visited the internal affairs division of the police department in the city hall annex to file a grievance against Mr. Wright.
Mrs. Gray says that the officer had no authority to intervene in the repossession of the leaky Lexus sold by M&R Motors in Rossville, Ga. Officers do not authority to intervene in civil disputes, she says.
Noblett unaware of violation
When Mrs. Gray asks city attorney Phil Noblett about the law regulating repossessions, Mr. Noblett is not aware of the authority, but says gives his reply his best shot, saying minors sitting in cars with the engines running being subject to police intervention if they are drivers blocking traffic.
Chief Eric Tucker seems unaware of the controversy surrounding Officer Wright. We have reported has argued that Officer Wright violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-609(a)(2), which forbids any repossessing agent from causing a disturbance of the peace unless he has a sessions court order. No such order existed, apparently, in the Gray auto repossession. And Officer Wright works for M&R Motors, Mrs. Gray says, though a member of the family that owns the car lot said he does not know Mr. Wright.
Mrs. Gray challenges Councilman Byrd for what she sees as a slack hand in her favor after several conversations. Mr. Byrd says he steps forward only within the limits of what he knows about her case.
Cop outbreaks all summer
The Avery Gray story several other cases starting in mid-June, several involving descendants of America’s 19th century slaves.
Following the Gray car drag is the July 7 arrest of Diana Watt in a messy commercial transportation stop against a private user of the roads; reports about rape complaints against Officer Desmond Logan; the easy treatment Aug. 20 of tipsy officer Allen Trumbo; the hair-trigger of cop Brian Cottell who obeys his training in shooting a man in the middle of his committing suicide Aug. 26; the Jesse Parker midnight SWAT raid Aug. 29 near Eastgate; the Aug. 3 siege of Noah McLemore as the shoeseller puffs a cigarette in front of his Highway 58 shop; and a legal settlement revealed this week in the Hanson Melvin “walking while black” false arrest case from 2016 that gets Officer David Campbell fired for misconduct.
From nearby towns, other instances of ordinary police violence include the profanity-filled cop-induced riot May 6 in Red Bank in which Allen DeBerry and three others blacks are charged; the execution July 24 by Red Bank cops of Donna Lynn Allen, who flees to Soddy-Daisy after “failure to yield;” the gentle treatment of cop-connected entrepreneur Justin Whaley after he crashes head-on into a man and kills him in a July 3 case prosecuted as a DUI; the groping search of a girl and the false arrest of a man filming police in Cleveland, Tenn., April 8; and in Chatsworth, Ga., the tasing of a woman, Martha al-Bashara, 87, by a fearful chief of police in mid-August.
Mrs. Gray talks about her being a homeschooling mom married to a truck driver. But she does not mention that her husband is in the county jail facing robbery charges, ones she says have no connection to the man she married or the real world of a cross-country trucking family whose solvency often appears unsure.
Mrs. Gray insists her accusations against policing are not leveled in the familiar black-white racial context. Mrs. Gray has a black mother and a white father, and says she is neither black nor white.
Her demand for justice does not include a proposal for a citizen oversight group with authority to investigate and publicize police abuse. Councilman Byrd asks her what justice for her looks like, suggests she file a civil lawsuit and shows a gift for diplomatic talk.
Police violence “is going on around the world,” Mrs. Gray insists, several times near tears, “but don’t let it go on in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It really needs to stop. *** Had it been a 14-year-old little white girl, would Officer Wright have grabbed her out of the car, and drug her out and injured her the way he injured my daughter?”
Council adjourns under Mott broadside
“Council rules do not exceed the constitution,“ Miss Mott says when claiming the right to speak next. “Are city ordinances, are municipal ordinances, above the constitution?”
Mr. Smith offers to speak with her afterwards.
“I don’t want to speak afterwards.”
“I am charged with upholding the council rules — ”
“You are also charged with upholding the constitution.”
Council rules allow the body to regulate public presentations, Mr. Smith says.
“Sir, you are going to have to drag me from up here, so you might as well give me my freedom of speech because you’re going to have to drag me from up here.”
Mr. Smith turns to the council members, and several voices in unison declare, “Move to adjourn.”
“— As the cowards will do — ” Miss Mott declares, “which is, to abridge the freedom of speech of the members— yeah, it’s funny, it’s funny, Byrd, isn’t it? It’s funny, isn’t it?”
Miss Mott says Mr. Byrd should have accompanied Mrs. Gray to internal affairs, and says, angrily, “I did your work for you.”