On Tuesday May 3, the city council will hear a rebuttal (the “People’s State of the City”) to the State of the City address recently given by Mayor Andy Berke. While Berke highlighted some great things happening in our city, he failed to capture the reality that many Chattanoogans experience, especially those who are poor and people of color. The truth is that Chattanooga has the highest concentration of low-wage workers in the country, seventh fastest rising costs in rent, and continued struggles with violence.
Chattanooga has ample resources, but they are currently being funneled to wealthy developers and corporations, inefficient programs, and to enhance opportunities for people who already have many opportunities. Huge subsidies are given to large companies who turn around and create jobs that are often temporary and low-paying. Large tax breaks are given to developers who create expensive housing, pushing out low and middle income families and individuals. This is an exploitative process that is unhealthy for our communities and our city as a whole.
It is well-known that poverty is a root cause of violence. Increasing police presence, installing surveillance cameras, and arresting more people cannot and will not alleviate poverty. It’s ineffectual and illogical to keep pouring resources into programs (e.g. Violence Reduction Initiative) that have been proven not to work. We must, as a city, decide that our priorities have to shift, and the city budget must reflect this.
We cannot afford to ignore reality, and we cannot police our way out of poverty. The People’s State of the City which will be presented to the city council Tuesday May 3 will accurately address the shortcomings of the proposed budget and explain a better way to move forward for our city. If, in Mayor Berke’s words, “failure is not an option,” then we cannot keep failing poor and Black communities. Chattanooga can and should be a city where everyone is considered worthy of resources, not just those who are already privileged.
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