Why do city council members sit quietly amid an uproar over public accusations of police abuse, and run a routine meeting?
On Tuesday in Chattanooga citizens and others condemned the police department for arrests of two women of color, dragged from their cars, one June 25 and the other July 7. Each was handcuffed (dangerous to officer, no doubt), injured in her body and charged as a criminal.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
The city council took in the sensationalized routines of police and the public gripes about them as if they were no more significant than the list of purchases and contracts (manhole components from Acheson Foundry & Machine Works, blanket contract for HVAC contract services, repairs, installation, etc., W.J. O’Neil Co., W. 26th Street) heard every council meeting and voted on without scarcely a question (except from the alert Darrin Ledford).
It seems as though the city council is controlled by the city attorney, the departing Wade Hinton, who sits at the head of the assembly, as if he were the authority — “the law.”
Lawyer at center — why?
How else to explain the members’ indifference and quiet acceptance of police brutality — really, no more than humdrum acts magnified in their grostesqueries by the digital media that turns every commoner into a yellow journalist?
If anything, Wade Hinton, who announced Friday his resignation, should be sitting elsewhere, perhaps down at the table where Nicole Gwyn, clerk to council, sits at the big table.
It’s as if, somehow, the city council were controlled by Robert’s Rules of Order rather than their warm, personal relationship with their constituents.
That Erskine Oglesby, a godly churchgoer of the reformed persuasion, sits and listens quietly is puzzling. The citizen reports, confirming what he has read in the press, should have roused him to a defense of Romans 13 and its charge to the magistrate. How can a representative of the people who heard a yearlong sermon on Psalm 119 at his church, devoted entirely to God’s law, not hear the uproar and not stalk out of the council chamber, hold a noisy press conference in the lobby in express disgust at Mayor Andy Berke’s rogue executive doings?
What strikes me now about that meeting Tuesday is the sedateness, the quietness of the council members. It affects the would-be firebrand, Demetrus Coonrod. In a barely audible voice, she was the only city council member to identify with the citizen-victims and say anything at any length about her grievance against Mayor Berke’s gangland style of maintaining the state’s peace and dignity. (As executive, the mayor’s office executes the police power residing in and attributed to the council by law.)
Even those members of the city council who are members of a race that is most oppressed by the social management claw called policing sat and listened. That roster would include, if you haven’t looked at the changing face of city council, Mr. Oglesby, Russell Gilbert and Anthony Byrd, who says he has had “twenty, thirty, forty” police encounters as a youth, “too many to count.”
Other council members are Chip Henderson, Jerry Mitchell, Ken Smith, Mr. Ledford and Carol Berz. Mr. Ledford, an officeholder keenly interested in constitutions and limited government, should have given a lecture on probable cause and defended the peace of the people. Carol Berz is a doctor in the law who rightly believes traffic signs and posted speeds are “merely advisory;” she just listened. Jerry Mitchell, who was indignant at the bill to ban panhandling, paid close attention — and just seems to be waiting for something to happen.
Let council reflect explosive mood
A freewheeling city council would be much more connected to the people. Their complaints would stir its members’ emotions and sentiments, and prompts them to give utterance.
It appears that the city council is unable to have any form of interaction that is not either a motion, or a second, a vote or a reading from some prescribed protocol, such as the agenda.
Why does the agenda control? Why after the public outcry, did the meeting not continue with a focus on the abuse of power by the mayor’s military department? Is there a rule that meetings should not drift past an hour and 15 minutes?
Police power originates in legislative branch
According to Tennessee Jurisprudence, the main encyclopedia about Tennessee law, police power is exercised in the legislature. In Chattanooga’s typical tripartite American of government the legislature is the city council. Mayor’s office is the executive. City court is the judiciary.
In the larger context, police power arises from what is called sovereignty.
Now I object to the claim that sovereignty belonging to any one or anything but God. However, it is an accepted legal principle that states have sovereignty, a fount from which that “police power” emanates. Police power “is the attribute of sovereignty by which the public policy is preserved and promoted. ‘Public policy’ is the present concept of public welfare or general good.” Police power is organized force, righteous violence (ostensibly), intended to be used solely for the benefit, health, welfare and morals of the people.
Since power in a constitutional republic is said to flow from the people to the state, it would be good for city council members in Chattanooga to remember that their power to intervene and set policy comes from the people. “Police power is lodged in the legislative branch of government and its exercise is not intended for the courts.” (Crabtree v. City Auto Salvage Co. 47 Tenn. App. 616, 340 S.W.2d 940 (1960).)
Form controls, substance doesn’t — for now
The city council is not bound by any rules of order, including Roberts’, in conducting the people’s business. Members’re not bound by the passive, staid ways of predecessors the year before, or the decade before.
After all the comments were made by the public Tuesday, why was the meeting exhausted with nothing left to say?
Does form control substance? The sense of orderliness controlled the business Tuesday, controlled the people’s representatives, as if somehow the demands for reform might go away with the passage of a week — and the next council meeting.
The inertia Tuesday shivered, if only slightly, under the indignant blows of a young woman, Marie Mott, who articulated the anger felt by many.
“You are here off of the backs of the people,” she said. “Each of you have power extended to you by your community. You do not have a seat: you do not have a voice; you do not have a power that we do not give to you.” Mayor Berke, too, has power granted to him by the electorate, whose interests he serves.
“I expect in instances when injustices like this come to light, I expect you to speak up. Why? Because you don’t serve [Mayor Berke]; You serve — me. You serve him” (pointing to a member of the audience). “You serve — them. And I expect that when things like this happen for there to be an honesty. There should never be a situation where people are afraid of the people they put into power.”
Aggrieved at commonplace cop work
She is aggrieved at the commonplaces of policing — the Gray girl arrest and the Diana Watt arrest with its stack of eight criminal charges, about half under an overbroad enforcement policy under Title 55, the focus of which is the business and commercial use of the people’s roads.
Miss Mott said afterward that it’s time for city council to effectively throw a bomb to blow up the tranquil doings of Mayor Berke in his promise, mildly stated, for reform. Mr. Berke suggested, when he named David Roddy chief, that he was heeding the growing dislike of police and rising pressure for de-escalation, demilitarization and reform. Since Ferguson’s riots in 2014, that impetus grows, even though countertrends in favor of the executive and police state are stronger at many points.
City council members, Miss Mott argues, should take charge and order changes in a self-conscious exercise of the police power that resides within their legislative branch.
A councilwoman’s story of God’s grace
Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod tells how God saved her from a life of sin and misery, and how her redemption in God and before man has included a rise to elected public office in Chattanooga.