As one who has made a profession of bringing order to chaos, of making peace amidst conflict, I admit that when it comes to self-proclaimed “activists” I am biased.
My go-to method in conflict resolution as a cop is to discover the source, if possible, and resolve it. “Boom.” That’s what the word “resolution” actually boils down to; it’s not complicated, and thank goodness for that because this is being carried out by a very simple group of people (more on that later). Discover the problem, identify its source, and resolve it as peacefully as you are allowed. (Oh ... and “Boom.”)
That’s what cops do: Solve problems. But there are other kinds of problem-solvers out there, ones who don’t deal with individual problems per se, but rather sociological ones. And one of those groups refers to themselves as “activists.”
Addressing these problems requires a whole different set of tools. I get it. But in my opinion (something I am, as a cop, generally frowned upon for having) I’ve noticed activists using not so much “resolution” as “revolution.”
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? They will agree. In fact, they will put that on a cleverly designed sign from a corporate (more on that later, too) graphics suite and use images borrowed from the glory days of socialist and communist countries.
Let’s take something simple like, say, “race.” Who doesn’t love to talk about it, besides my newspaper, politicians, government workers and “white people” in general. But an activist? That’s like a hit of sweet crack cocaine to them because it vaults them into the spotlight. A bad one, granted, but many actually believe that bit about any press being good press.
The Bessie Smith Strut. Here are some recent Facebook comments on the debacle, first from Perrin Lance on Facebook:
“The attempted closing of the Bessie Smith Strut is a direct attack on the black community of Chattanooga. It is a racist policy decision that strikes at the heart of communities of color in Chattanooga while Mayor Littlefield and land developer types attempt to destroy what little public housing is left, they seem ready to kill the cultural heart of the black community.”
And now an excerpt from a simulated letter to the late Bessie Smith by Marcus Ellsworth, who said “Chattanooga is trying to put an end to a celebration that was named for you, one of this city’s black queer legends, by co-opting it into a toxic money making scheme with second-hand headliners that is known as Riverbend.”
I’m a cop who has been present at 13 of the 32 events held prior to this year. Folks, I’m a safety expert and the fact is that it’s the most dangerous three hours of the year for this city. While I’m not sure it’s the call I would have made, it’s a call I don’t blame the Mayor for making. But “a racist policy decision that strikes at the heart of communities of color” by people “ready to kill the cultural heart of the black community?” The Strut being moved, not cancelled … Really?
And (per Mr. Ellsworth) this move is designed to “co-opt it into a toxic money making scheme?” Co-opted? Do you even realize that this event was founded and paid for by that same Friends of the Festival who provide the artists, the permits, volunteers, and who don’t charge vendors or patrons? But suddenly, they are the assholes here, despite not being the ones who made the move?
What I hear is that you believe the merchants of that area who profit from it are incapable of getting a permit to host their own event(s) in their names. Are you saying the black community that you believe revolves around this one central point of the year (since this is the “cultural heart” of it) is incapable of booking their own acts, or getting security for an event like anyone else does every weekend of the year? Are you implying that the local Harley-Davidson dealership that throws musical events requiring cops present is a greater organizing entity than the entire black community, whose heart is apparently based on blocking off 10 street blocks for three hours a year? What an insult.
Then there is the irony that this event was implemented and paid for by one of your dirty, horrible sinister Corporate Entities. But now you think the indigenous people of the greater M.L. King area are incapable of doing so for themselves—or are at least incapable of paying for it themselves—that it needs to be done for them, handed to them. Who sounds racist now?
By all means, inflame racial tensions to a boiling point. Create a revolution. But if blood flows because of the change of venue of a Riverbend event, be prepared for your own revolt.
Local Activists, Chattanooga doesn’t have a “change of venue crisis.” Quit protesting out-of-state tragedies and focusing on in-town festival moves of all damn things, and have the courage to march and protest real problems. Young black men are shooting each other in this town in astronomical numbers. A three-hour music event is moved and you want a race-war. Christ.
The black community in Chattanooga does have problems, but at the very bottom of that damn list is where “The Bessie Smith Strut” is being held. Shame on you and your cowardly sense of priorities.
Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.