published Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

David Cook: Please call the cops

When things go south in your neighborhood, do you call the cops?

"Police would be the last ones I'd call,'' one man said to me.

We were standing on a street corner when he said it. Around us was a sad landscape of poverty, drugs, gangs, so many broken things. The last time I'd heard similar words was in a place like this. And the time before, and the time before that.

It is this statement -- the last ones I'd call -- that is ground zero of the Chattanooga crisis. Poverty, gangs, all of it boils down to this sticky question: Do you trust the police?

Because if you say no, then nothing else really matters. You don't trust cops, then you don't trust teachers or principals, the mayor or minister. The whole system is a closed door.

But if you say yes, then a system of upward mobility is still in place. The city can work for you, not against. By valuing police, we value law and order. Trouble comes? We call the good guys, and the good guys come to help.

Nothing gets solved in this city without every neighborhood believing that.

That's why I'm so afraid of what's happening this morning.

Sean Emmer and Adam Cooley go before an administrative law judge, asking for their jobs back.

Last June, the two Chattanooga police officers responded to a call from the Salvation Army halfway house. They and other officers found Adam Tatum, an inmate there. Took a knife from him. Beat him, severely, when he resisted arrest. Punched him in the face. A choke hold. Mace. A stun gun. Broke his legs.

Emmer and Cooley, responsible for the worst abuse that night, are white. Tatum is black.

Chief Bobby Dodd fired the two, but a U.S. attorney declined to prosecute the officers and a Hamilton County grand jury did not indict them. That precedent of sorts may allow this week's judge to return Emmer and Cooley to the force.

If so, they'll probably never return to patrol. Desk jobs, pushing papers, anything but the streets.

Doesn't matter. If Emmer and Cooley get their jobs back, it will only represent another chapter in this long story being told in parts of Chattanooga. White violence, police brutality, one more example of power shifted away from people of color. Not the thin blue line, but a big fat white one.

Is this fact or fiction? Yes. No. It is both perception and reality, part of what boils over between police and residents in high-crime areas.

Police would be the last ones I'd call.

We have to change this narrative.

We need to be able to trust the police, most of whom are noble, honest men and women, with the weight of the world on their shoulders, walking into parts of Chattanooga that most of us will never know, see or even believe if we did.

Like Gotham City at night, one officer once told me.

But if you live in that Gotham City, police don't always represent the good guys. Those neighborhoods are swamped in handcuffs, with whole generations lost to prison, unemployment and on and on.

There, in that Chattanooga, police don't represent something that saves, but something that imprisons.

"There is no conspiracy. But if we were trying to play to the idea that there is, we could hardly do a better job," writes David Kennedy in his excellent "Don't Shoot," which discusses this tension in great depth.

We have to untangle this. We must find a way to convince folks that police aren't intentionally trying to destroy their sons, don't want to see crime happen any more than they do and when abuse does happen, an overarching system of law won't stand for it.

When that understanding is laid into place, trust develops alongside hope. Resentment drops, and residents and police work together for a better community.

Putting Emmer and Cooley back on the force does the opposite. They get their jobs back? It's like beating an entire community.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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jjmez said...

What Cooley and Emmer were caught in the act committing is only a tip of the iceberg of what police have committed in those communities. Their actions have only served to create more crimes and criminals than to make those communities safe. Many times, they themselves could be found playing the role of the criminal rather than serving the public and keeping the inhabitants safe.

June 26, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
klifnotes said...

Wasn't Cooley in the news prior to the Salvation Army incident, accused of using excessive force?

What these struggling communities have tried to warn and sound the alarm bells for decades is now trickling over into areas of the population where such tragic citizen/police encounters were a rarity or non-existing. The militarization of America's police force has led to some pretty dangerous, inhumane and deadly encounters. And of course, the citizen most always comes out on the short end, even when it would have been considered a case of self defense if the perp hadn't been a cop.

Rarely is law enforcement held accountable if even and when they're actually caught in the act. A citizen is now more likely to stand a better chance of survival after having an encounter with a dangerous criminal than a cop.

Consider the story of 16yr. old Andrew Messina (white/upscale/suburbia America). Such stories are no longer rare or non-existing. And they've long been commonplace in such targeted communities described in this editorial :.

Excerpt/Cherokee County Ga.: ""Would you have ever called the police if you had known this could have happened?" Chief Investigative Reporter Wendy Saltzman asked Lisa Messina.

"That's the one thing I would have done different today. I would not have called 911," she said."

June 26, 2013 at 8:15 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Why don't you jackasses take a better look at the good the police are doing here, in the vast majority of incidents.

June 26, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Why don't you jackasses take a better look at the good the police are doing here, in the vast majority of incidents." - LaughingBoy

Why don't you try reading an article in its entirety before spouting nonsense? If you did you would have come across this from David Cook: "We need to be able to trust the police, MOST OF WHOM ARE NOBLE, HONEST MEN AND WOMEN (bold print mine), with the weight of the world on their shoulders, walking into parts of Chattanooga that most of us will never know, see or even believe if we did."

Of course it's a good thing to be aware of the good that cops do, but to let the malicious and horrific acts of the rogues go unpunished is unconscionable. It lowers the standards for all cops and what they're supposed to stand for.

I watched that video of those two cops beating that guy. I'm not squeamish but what they did was so brutal and excessive, I had to turn my eyes away at one point. I have seen videos of cops engaged in seemingly brutal behavior where it was possible that we were not getting the full picture, that there were facts and circumstances in real time that the viewer was not privy to that caused the cops to be as tough as they were. But those two cops were so obviously over the top and out of control it was disgusting. They do not deserve to be allowed to return to the police force in any capacity, and I would think that most of the truly good cops would not want them to.

June 27, 2013 at 10:53 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

That was for JJ and Klif.

Did you know the taser used was ineffective and even after that beating, it still too more than the pair of officers to take him in?

June 28, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

I watched the video again. The more I watch it the more obvious it becomes how out of line those cops were. There is NOTHING that justifies their level of violence. The guy was clearly out of his head and because he wasn't responding rationally and obeying their specific command to "roll over" they kept pummeling him as a means of getting him to obey. I know that someone high on drugs can be extremely difficult to contend with and can even appear to gain an additional source of physical strength, but the guy was clearly subdued and was not fighting back, he was simply refusing to comply with their command to "roll over." Those cops were big and strong and at one point there were even four cops standing over the guy, and STILL that one cop kept on beating him. They could have early on taken one of his hands and then the other and handcuffed him. But they just seemed to be pissed that the guy wasn't obeying their specific command to "roll over." Sorry but I don't see how anyone can justify what they did on any level.

June 28, 2013 at 1:41 p.m.
klifnotes said...

LaughingBoy said... That was for JJ and Klif. Did you know the taser used was ineffective and even after that beating, it still too more than the pair of officers to take him in?

You must have watched a totally different tape than anyone else. Not even the chief watched the same tape as you. The only ones appearing crazed, drugged out and pumped up on steroids or something on that tape were the cops. Now, they're saying Tatum had cocaine in his system. However, according to the original story when this first happened, I recall reading somewhere the hospital failed to carry out any drug testing on Tatum. Staff also are said to have allowed these cops to visit Tatum when they shouldn't have. Was the hospital in cahoots with the cops?

June 28, 2013 at 8:51 p.m.
RShultz210 said...

"Putting Emmer and Cooley back on the force does the opposite. They get their jobs back? It's like beating an entire community." Outstanding Mr. Cook. Truer words have never been written. And I'm not being sarcastic here. I've been on the receiving end of what Mr. Tatum got more than once. I've been harassed all of my adult life by the Gestapo. As you said, I'm sure there MUST be good and noble and ethical Police, but I have YET to meet any I would dignify with a name other than Geheime Staatspolizei. I am sure they're out there somewhere, I guess I just haven't had the luck to cross paths with one. I still have hope that I will some day but it's fading pretty fast. Some folks think I am a half-crazy, wannabe hero because every time I go out I carry a camcorder and a stun gun. It isn't for the reason they think. I'm not deliberately seeking trouble. I just want to be able to help some poor scmuck like Tatum who's being beaten to death by roid raging Neanderthals. I may get myself seriously hurt, let's face it politely asking fascists not to be fascists has a very poor track record, but what else can I do? I'm going to try to send you a link by private e-mail to an article that I hope fervently you will be able to read with an open mind. It may explain some of my attitudes that maybe don't seem to jibe with the things you know about me. It is certainly relevant to the problem we are discussing here. In fact I can't think of anything that could be more relevant. Just please read the whole thing before you make any decision about it. I think that would be only fair and if I have gotten anything out of any conversation you and I have had, it has been "this man has a sense of fairness". Please turn the fair knob all the way up when you get the link to this article because even the title is going to shock you. At any rate, another good column.

June 29, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
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