Black Lives Matters’ Tee Davis said incendiary comments made by former Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls during a meeting held at the Bradley County Courthouse last Wednesday were “disgusting.”
During a gathering of the Bradley Constitutionalists, Rawls described members of Black Lives Matter as “insurgents” and “communists,” and warned that anyone coming to Cleveland to engage in rioting should go elsewhere.
“These communists are your enemies,” Rawls said. “They would kill you, your wife and there’s no telling what they would do to your kids. They would kill or poison your dog. If you don't believe that, you're living in a fairy tale.”
But Davis, who has lived in Cleveland since 2012, and whose relatives have resided in the area for generations, said that he and others with BLM just want to improve their community.
Davis is also a member of the Bradley County Chapter of the NAACP.
“I don't see why Mr. Rawls would picture us as communists or terrorists in our community, because that's not what we're here to do,” he said. “Instead of trying to defuse situations and relate to what's going on, he kind of militarized it."
Since day one of the local demonstrations which have taken place at Cleveland's Confederate monument, Davis said BLM has practiced and preached peaceful protests.
"Yes, there were a lot of injustices and riots and mobs going on in other cities, but that's long past … that is long past,” he said. “I don't ever see that happening here. I don't ever want to see the defacing of public property or people getting tear-gassed or anything of the sort in our community.”
During Rawls’ meeting, he took issue with those who are protesting at the monument. Many of those present at the anti-statue protests are members or supporters of Black Lives Matter.
“A large amount of the people that have been at this protest are not from here,” Rawls said, adding that he has tracked their movements.
“I went to their car. I followed them. I took their tag numbers … I got pictures of them,” he said. “I followed three: all three were from outside Bradley County.”
If anyone needs protecting, it is those associated with BLM, according to Davis.
“I don't feel like anyone needs protection from anyone in this community, other than from the people that are slandering Black Lives Matter,” he said.
Davis said those involved in the BLM protests in Cleveland have “never slandered or cursed” anyone.
“We have never showed any type of aggressive body language towards anybody,” he said. “So, for Mr. Rawls to approach this matter as if we were communists or terrorists, we find it disgusting.”
On June 17, one protester
— a man named Adrian Hart — was arrested by the Cleveland Police Department for disorderly conduct.
Davis said BLM, in addition to advocating for relocating the statue, is working to raise awareness of police brutality in light of the death of a Minneapolis man George Floyd, and others, who have died while in police custody.
"What we're trying to tell them is that oppression is not wanted in our community,” Davis said. “We don't want to battle amongst each other. That's what we're trying to convey to the public.”
The BLM movement is about awareness, Davis said.
“It’s about people becoming more aware of police brutality,” he said. “It has nothing to do with Black people hating White people or White people hating Black people. It is all about police brutality. That's what it all boils down to.”
Floyd’s death — and the deaths of Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery — have combined to fuel the rise, and the advocacy, of Black Lives Matter.
All those listed above were also Black. In some cases — such as in Floyd's death — those responsible were not immediately arrested.
“What gives law enforcement the leeway to commit a crime and then have a period of time where they don't have to go endure the conditions of a prison facility?" he asked. "It’s just backwards to me.”
Although Floyd did have a police record — as often cited by BLM opponents — Davis said it should not be a justification for a death sentence.
“They’re insinuating he deserved to die,” Davis said. “That's our issue, that's our main question. Once you come up with these excuses, are you saying he deserved to die? No!”
As for Cleveland’s Confederate monument, Davis said he and others in BLM do not want it destroyed, only relocated to where it is not glorified and available as a teaching tool on the nation’s past — one when slavery and oppressive Jim Crow laws were accepted.
He suggests the monument, which has stood at the intersection of Ocoee, Broad and Eighth streets since 1911, should be relocated to a place where it can be viewed in an educational manner.
Its present location does not provide context of the nation’s past, nor does it educate anyone, Davis stressed.
“We just don't want to be forced to think about our ancestors and what they had to go through,” he said. “I already know about that as a Black man.”
Despite differences within the community over BLM, Davis said that “everybody cares about the community, but we must care about it as one.”
“I want my kids to grow up here,” he said. “This is my community. I don't consider myself a native from Cleveland, but I live here, and I want to support it 100%.”
Davis said he will be meeting with the local United Daughters of the Confederacy-Jefferson Davis Chapter 900 within the next few days. He said he hopes the face-to-face meeting will lead to a doable solution toward the statue's relocation.
The local UDOC owns the statue and the plot of land where it stands, according to documentation provided by Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks. Davis said he recently met with the city mayor to discuss the Confederate statue.
“That meeting was so impactful and so positive,” Davis said, adding that they both agreed to work together to bring the community together.
Davis said he told the mayor that BLM is not about tearing down monuments.
“We don't want to push it over with a bulldozer,” Davis said. “We just want to relocate it so people can be educated by it.”
In addition, Davis said he will attend a meeting of the Cleveland City Council next month. Although the city does not own the monument or the plot of land where it stands, he is confident council members can use their influence to mediate a solution.
“I'm sure that the mayor can come up with something or the council members can come up with a proper plan,” he said. “Once we get the proper information to move it, they will come up with a proper plan to where to move it to.”