A disturbing public beating of a Chattanooga resident by a city employee sets off an alarm at Chattanooga city council, with council member Russell Gilbert demanding accountability and member Demetrus Coonrod shocked that the council isn’t being mobbed by outraged citizens.
By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7
City council, which in practice is more of an administrative body then a governing one, has no hesitation Tuesday to condemn the knuckle work of cop Ben Piazza who hurled obscenities and smashed the face and body of automobile traveler Frederico Wolfe on March 10 in a Title 55 transportation stop outside the scope of the statute.
“I want to see a change,” demands council member Russell Gilbert. “I want to see a change in Chattanooga.”
‘I have an issue with that’
Council members are too demure to ask to see the video. They’d have to air dirty laundry in the first 60 seconds of the personal meeting between cop and citizen, sprinkled with color such as, “Put your hands up. Put your hands on the f—ing car. Put your f—in’ hands on the top of the car or beat the s— out of you.”
Mr. Gilbert cites several instances from the Piazza beating of Mr. Wolfe, punctuating each detail with a resolute: “I have an issue with that.”
The points include the theatrical pointing of a city-owned pistol at the citizen, the balling of the fist as he uses the word s— and f–k in threatening a beating, striking Mr. Wolfe “not one, not two — seven times.”
Why does city government not know about the public beating on camera for 10 months? he demands. Mr. Gilbert is concerned about the timeline, “because someone had to see this in that department — someone had to see it. For the DA to get it and for the lawyer to get it, someone had to pass it from our side to them. So someone did see this prior to now.”
He demands the DA make “an independent investigation” and a review of the internal affairs file of Mr. Piazza who may have other evidences of “negativity.” Just as in days of black subjugation (separate water fountains, segregated facilities), Mr. Gilbert is concerned about evil framed by law and kept by practice. “No one should have that much power *** to do the things [Officer Piazza] did to that young man.”
“We have great policemen. Ninety-five percent are great. But that 5 percent of police officers need to go. They need to be terminated; they need to leave.”
Where is the anger in city?
Council member Demetrus Coonrod expresses shock that the Friday report and video about the beating has not generated widespread outrage. As of Tuesday night it had 12,000 views on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09qXr9wKFcI&t=83s
“It shouldn’t take for an incident to be isolated on a national level for this room to be packed. It shouldn’t take that. It should be packed for every injustice that happens in the city of Chattanooga. *** This young man matters to us” in an event for which the police department “was solely responsible.”
Mrs. Coonrod is supportive of Mr. Gilbert’s views. “If a police officer gets out of line, he needs to be held accountable [even] if that means you are going to be prosecuted, going to jail, lose your job.” Members of the audience applaud.
Council members Chip Henderson, Darrin Ledford, Jerry Mitchell, Carol Berz and Erskine Oglesby, as if of flint, leave the matter of being upset to others. But all vote yes in a bid by chairman Ken Smith to request the state prosecutor’s office investigate the attack.
NAACP demands officer firing
Two officials from the NAACP hail council comments on the “urgent” matter facing blacks in Chattanooga. One of them, Dwight Smith, says the cop who beat Mr. Wolfe should be dismissed and that police are effectively outlaw — outside the civil authority.
“You cannot leave the power in the hand of the police chief,” Mr. Smith says. “You cannot expect an officer of the law not to protect an officer of the law. You cannot leave this power on one person. *** Bring that power within a governing body that will address issues as they happen and not leave it in house, where it has always *** [been] buried in the archives. Let’s not do that again.”
He cannot understand why the officer is effectively on paid vacation after having committed a crime. “Automatically this officer should have been dismissed and taken off the street.”
NAACP official James Mathis says he was once beaten by a police officer, “but there was no one there with a camera to video it.” A NAACP people’s march the next day at 106 Walnut St. will focus on ending police abuse, he says.
And investigation is what the council seems to have in mind in a discussion about asking Neal Pinkston to review the beating as a possible crime. The statements by council members are at best mildly framed.
Chairman Smith refuses to comment. Maura Sullivan, Mayor Berke’s operations manager, refuses comment. So does councilwoman Dr. Berz.
Broader picture from Mott
What about rape charges of Officer Demond Logan? Officer Benjamin Dessalines, accused of sexual assault? What about two blitzed officers, Trumbo and Joel? “What about justice or one man, but not the others?”
Marie Mott insists the culture of policing be changed, with nothing having happened since summer. She mentions other victims of casual police violence. Jesse Parker, the schoolteacher whose family was roused from bed at night and forced to stand outside in bare feet, with assault weapons trained at children as young as 5. Avery Gray, whose daughter Kennedy was dragged from a parked car and maliciously charged with disorderly conduct.
She mentions “tons of stories that never make the news” because victims are afraid and subject to media exposure.
Miss Mott, a host at NoogaRadio 92.7 and a community activist wearing her press badge, encourages city council to insist on its role in the government and to hold Mayor Berke and his employees accountable for their actions.
“If we can’t get justice in here, if I can get justice [from] the executive, and I sure as hell can’t get justice in the courts,” Miss Mott insists, “what will the people do except rise up and we’ll get justice in the street? And we’re there. We’re there. That’s why we’re pushing for an independent community oversight board, because we are sick and tired of coming before bodies and people — and nothing changes.”