From Mon Jul 31 10:34:52 2000
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 00:10:27 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marpessa Kupendua <>
Subject: !*Southern Exposure Magazine Article on Chattanooga 3
Article: 101562
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: 7b7d91019ee8ee0a37af1a08fcca21c3

From: JoNina Abron <>
Sent: Friday, July 28, 2000 12:56 PM

No Justice; Disturbing the Peace

By Jordan Green, Southern Exposure, [28 July 2000]

The Chattanooga Three are demanding police accountability—and changing a state-wide law that may threaten everyone's free speech

Dear Friend:

Following is an article about the Chattanooga 3 from the new issue of Southern Exposure magazine. The magazine, which has been around for some 20 years, is highly respected nationally, and the publication of this article is a MAJOR breakthrough for the case of the Chattanooga 3--Bros. Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, Damon McGee and Mikail Musa Muhammad (Ralph P. Mitchell)--and for Lorenzo's seven-year fight to get Tennessee's unconstitutional disruption statute overturned.

Currently, Lorenzo is waiting to find out if the Tennessee Supreme Court will hear the appeal of his 1994 disruption conviction (the Chattanooga 8 case). We hope that the Southern Exposure article will put some pressure on the court to take the case and also will pressure the major civil rights and legal organizations to support Lorenzo's campaign against the disruption statute. To date, _none_ of these groups have supported the campaign.

The trial of the Chattanooga 3 is scheduled to begin Sept. 12. However, Lorenzo believes that the trial will be postponed if the Tenn. Supreme Court decides to hear his appeal.

JoNina M. Abron, Chair
International Committee to Defend the Chattanooga 3

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—Saturday, March 18, was a watershed day in the movement for police accountability in the border town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was on this day that the Coalition Against Racism and Brutality marched through the city's downtown, capping almost two decades of struggle between the African-American community and a local police department, which activists have charged with a pattern of abuse and misconduct.

Away from the streets, in the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals, Saturday also brought another crucial development in the police accountability debate. The Court upheld a 1994 conviction of local activist Lorenzo Komboa Ervin for disruption, stemming from his anti-police brutality protests. The ruling spelled trouble for Ervin and two other activists—dubbed The Chattanooga Three—who were arrested in 1998, also on charges of disruption. It has also drawn attention to the entire disruption statute, which activists believe is a device used to squelch dissent.

The demonstration today—after the court's ruling —places me in legal jeopardy of being arrested just for the protests, Lorenzo Komboa Ervin told the rally. They denied us a permit to march, so we could all be rolled up into jail.


Disrupting a meeting or procession

Ervin, Damon McGhee, and Mikail Musa Muhammad of Black Autonomy Copwatch were arrested on May 19,1998 for speaking out at a Chattanooga City Council meeting against two recent police killings.The Tennessee law they were charged with is referred to as Disrupting a meeting or procession, and it carries a sentence of six months in state prison.

They had been told that the City Council would hear their concerns about two recent deaths at the hands of police. just two weeks before, on May 7,1998, a young African-American man, Kevin McCullough, was shot by police who were serving him a warrant at work. Before that, on April 28, another young African-American man, Montrail Collins, was shot 17 times by Chattanooga police. Police Chief J.L. Dotson told The Chattanooga Times that both officers were defending themselves, under the protection of both city policy and state law.

Ervin says that he was put on the agenda of the City Council to speak to his concerns about the deaths. When City Council Chair Dave Crockett failed to acknowledge him, Ervin asked when he would be able to speak.

They said, ‘Your request has been refused,’ so I got up and spoke, relates Ervin. The result is that Ervin, along with McGhee and Muhammad—who stood up to express their disappointment with the Council's decision—were arrested and charged with disturbance.

Crockett characterizes the incident as being more than a disturbance. He says that the group of 150 who came to express their grievance about police abuse was boisterous and that they refused to wait their turn to speak. We don't use the special presentation time for grievances, Crockett explains. I think there might have been some confusion about that.

Crockett justifies himself in having the three removed from the room and arrested. I had some concern for the safety of the people who attended the meeting and concern for the officers, he maintains.

Dying in the Law's Hands

Ervin's testimony was important to this small city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of eastern Tennessee because of Chattanooga's poor record on police brutality. A 1995 internal memo from the Department of Justice noted Chattanooga as number one for reported cases of police brutality of American cities with 200,000 people or less. The department's internal investigations have consistently justified killings as self-defense. In fact no Chattanooga police officer has ever been convicted of murder.

Activists in Chattanooga fighting against police brutality have taken another blow in a struggle that has as much to do with the right to civic participation as the right to not be threatened with bodily harm. University of Tennessee law professor Dwight Aarons filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Court to justify the constitutionality of the statute, which he suggested could be used at the discretion of the City to silence unpopular speech.

A challenge to the constitutionality of a statute is normally a difficult endeavor, says Aarons. 'I've tried to point out to the court the difficulties involved in reading the statute to maintain that the statute, as presently written, does not infringe on a defendant's constitutional rights.

Aaron argues it is a hard law to defend, though. 'Texas law, which is the model for the Tennessee statute, he relates, has been found to be over-broad.

The Associated Press has reported two cases in which community members have successfully challenged such restrictions and won. Elizabeth Romine was found not guilty of obstructing government operations for speaking out of turn at a Florence, Alabama, City Council meeting. Similarly, a Michigan judge issued an injunction last year barring city officials from keeping critics of Battle Creek Police Chief Jeffrey Kruithoff from speaking out against him during open meetings.

Silencing Dissent

Ervin feels strongly that the City of Chattanooga is more interested in stifling dissent than keeping the peace. This is a tourist town. Tourism is the number one industry. In their view, he says, they can't afford to have a negative position about authority.

There is a long history of repression of radical activity and Black-led political causes in Chattanooga. Ervin points to the prosecution of the four principal leaders of the Chattanooga Black Panthers in 1972, which effectively neutralized the local chapter of the party. Ralph Moore, Gerald Edwards, Ray Lindsay, and Madonna Storey were all charged and convicted of extortion by the Chattanooga Criminal Court. This was during the era of the FBI's COINTELPRO program in which the agency carried on an intensive campaign of repression against the Panthers, as well as infiltrating the organization with provocateurs to engineer a national split between the east and west coasts. In smaller chapters such as Chattanooga's, aggressive investigation and prosecution were used more effectively.

Ervin is only aware of the disturbance statute being used twice—in his current case and against him once before in 1993. At a police memorial, Ervin and eight others were arrested for counter-demonstrating to memorialize individuals who had died at the hands of the police. They were protesting the refusal of a Hamilton County grand jury to indict the law enforcement officers responsible for killing Larry Powell, who critics charge was a victim of driving while black. Powell was choked to death by the police.

Crockett agrees that the statute is rarely put into use. I only remember one other incident when someone was asked to excuse themselves and that was amicable because the person was inebriated.