Johnson City | Tennessee

Who attended and what are they concerned about?

We had about 10 people attend a mini-session. We are planning to do a bigger meeting after we return from the assembly. The folks that attended our meeting represented about a dozen groups organizing around a myriad of issues. They represented the Tennessee Equality Project, PFLAG, Tri-Cities Pride Center, Socialist Alternative, Black Lives Matter, Environmental Groups, Restorative Justice Groups, and folks concerned about public education.

Folks were concerned about the gentrification of downtown Johnson City and how it will affect the communities housed around the construction boom. People brought up city ordinances about panhandling and “safety zones” policing that was essentially criminalizing folks experiencing homelessness.

We had a broader discussion about policing in our area. The cops in the Johnson City Police Department all participate in several community outreach programs and professes to us at every Black Lives Matter event that if there is a problem they will gladly speak with anyone about their concerns. We talked about the “mobile jail cell” vehicle riding through working-class communities where mostly people of color live and the “safety zone” policing during certain hours of the day when folks are more likely to be stopped by police for questioning if they seem “out of place” or could be “disturbing” business activities downtown. We also talked about how this was directly linked to the privatization of events like Blue Plum and the Umoja festival.

We talked about issues going on in surrounding counties with similar laws that are essentially criminalizing folks that need resources, not jail time. Carter County has a law where they are arresting victims of domestic abuse if they do not show up for court. Many mobile home parks and apartment complexes have rules that if folks have the cops called on them for domestic disputes more than three times they will be evicted. Carter County is also the only place folks can go to get a driver’s license after leaving the jail system in our area and that is leading to major hardships for folks working to transition back into life after leaving jail.

We also talked about the major issues going on in Sullivan County where the city council and police department seem to be working together to terrorize Ms. Keith’s church and locked out Irene Wells when she was first elected as mayor. Ms. Keith and Ms. Wells have had to file lawsuits against the county for Civil Rights violations. Folks there are also experiencing issues with their water not being fit to drink and huge water bills stemming from issues with TVA cutting down water to the area so they can do repairs for the next 5 years. There are specific charters in that county that need to be overturned and people are gearing up for a large campaign going into the May election to pressure the city council to take action and hold city officials accountable.

What is the shared analysis of the problems?

We all understand that the way our communities are being policed and run is to criminalize and generate revenue from poor folks and, in many cases, people of color are being harassed by the police and terrorized if they speak out against white supremacy. Vocal white supremacists have been especially active in Sullivan County where there were trucks with confederate flags that circled around a playground in a mostly black neighborhood shouting racial slurs at the children. On the day we had this meeting they were showcasing the largest confederate flag and hosting a Civil War re-enactment in Sullivan County. Folks involved with organizing for social justice causes in our area got listed and called out on Facebook by local white supremacists and have been targeted for online harassment and received death threats.

We understand the intersections between privatizing prisons and why they are wanting to build them on top of MountainTop Removal sites. We understand that the politicians are getting tons of money to build a methadone clinic in Jonesborough even though there are no other resources out there and absolutely no public transportation routes going that way. The powers that be are lining their pockets off the backs of poor folks and by terrorizing communities of color.

We also identified areas where we do not have a presence, but one is desperately needed. There is a lot of energy and interest around work towards restorative justice, but we currently do not have many agencies or groups supporting folks going through the jail system.