Feb. 20—What if it had been your father beaten? Your son cavity-searched? Your daughter groped?
What if it had been you?
In 2008, Jim Hammond swore an oath as sheriff to the citizens of Hamilton County; since then, there have been at least 19 incidents of alleged abuse and misconduct by his trained officers.
Nineteen alleged instances. Shooting deaths. One woman fondled and baptized. One man closed-fist beaten while handcuffed. One man beaten after walking down the road.
"Piece of f — - s — - !" officers called Reginald Arrington Jr. as they batoned him.
"Only one of these officers has been fired, while others have either resigned or remain on paid leave," declares a statement from more than 40 Chattanooga pastors.
Monday, under a cold rain, the pastors stood on the steps of the county jail, demanding one thing.
"It appears you have violated your oath of office," proclaimed the Rev. William Terry Ladd III, pastor of First Baptist, in an open letter to Hammond.
Ladd is a member of Chattanooga Clergy for Justice — white and Black, women and men, Baptists to Seventh Day Adventists — organized around one main idea:
"We seek to put an end to the injustices committed against Hamilton County's population through unjust policing and policies," they state.
Their website — chaclergyforjustice.weebly.com — documents alleged misconduct and Hammond's response.
> The sheriff's office has denied public access to basic policies and training procedures.
> Local jails are replete with human rights abuses.
> Hammond's office lost 15 months of dash-cam video footage.
> Hammond has communicated an ongoing message of disrespect to Black and brown Hamilton County. "Run them out of town, put them in jail or send them to the funeral home," he's said of gang members. "Islam is communism with a god," Hammond said of Muslims.
> Hammond has neglected the "minority relations" committee he commissioned — with officers, clergy, leaders — in March 2019.
Wednesday, Hammond's office responded with a four-page statement and 110-page document of policies.
Please download and read it.
"I have always welcomed recommendations and feedback," Hammond wrote in the statement, which addresses some of the group's claims. "In an effort to develop and strengthen relationships between the HCSO and our local minority community, I assigned Captain Van Hinton to serve as our Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Officer and created a Minority Relations Community Taskforce."
First, "minority relations" is a poor, lackluster term.
Second, the task force did their work, researching the recommendations of national experts. Yet, they say, you neglected to meet.
Third, is this an attempt to scapegoat Van Hinton?
Many of you know Hinton. A county officer for more than three decades, he was the sole Black county officer for the Drug Enforcement Agency when, in the late 90s, he was demoted to patrol.
The Rev. Paul McDaniel — then a county commissioner — fought for Hinton, keeping him in his DEA position.
Has the past become present? Is Hinton again being put into a vulnerable or manipulated situation by the sheriff above him?
"Training is everything," one police officer told me recently.
I'm not writing to generalize or unfairly shame; yes, many of our county officers are trusted and highly trained.
Yet while Hammond's training policy may deal with the body, what of the heart and mind?
How does the sheriff confront bias?
There is something within the white Southern mind that has been conditioned to see Black and brown neighbors as inferior and deficient.
How do you train that out?
How do your policies confront the history of racism ... as it manifests in the white mind?
How do you train your officers to love and respect racial minorities when, for some 400 years, we've been trained and conditioned not to?
And the rest of us? The white majority?
Will we join the call for justice?
Or are we conditioned to remain silent?
This is Black history. Over and again, over and again.
"We stand against cruel, counterproductive Christianity and we stand on the prophetic legacy of our ancestors," Tim Careathers, pastor of Westside Missionary Baptist, said in that cold Monday rain. "We stand not in the traditionalism of a Christ we have constructed in our own images that would dare write reports and newspaper articles to protect such damnable behavior by a sheriff. But we stand in the tradition of a Christ that got love for all of God's humanity."
Sheriff Hammond, what if it had been your Christ, beaten?
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.