Online Tennessee city council meeting marred by racist slurs

Published 8:40 am Friday, April 3, 2020

CHATTANOOGA (AP) — A Tennessee city’s first online city council meeting was marred by attendees who sent a barrage of racist messages targeting black council members and staff, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
Three online attendees sent dozens of messages using a racial slur in the first 10 minutes of the Tuesday meeting, which was held online to comply with social distancing recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Multiple council members responded with shock, imploring that someone curb the “extremely offensive” messages that were visible to the more than 80 online attendees. The messages only stopped after Councilman Ken Smith changed the chat settings so that only officials could see the messages, making them invisible to the general public.
Chat was disabled before the council voted on a resolution formally recognizing Juneteenth, the holiday which celebrates the abolition of slavery and emancipation of slaves in formerly Confederate U.S. states. The council approved the resolution unanimously.
Beginning next week, the council intends to allow a formal public comment period during the virtual meeting. Smith said the city has not ironed out the details yet, but Tuesday’s outburst demonstrates the importance of getting it right.
“We do not have the ability to see any identifying information about the attendees, so that’s something we’ll have to address before we allow speakers,” he said.
Chairman Erskine Oglesby said after the meeting, “It’s a shame people act like that, but no, it will not change that we will offer public comment next week. We will make sure that we have the technology in place to allow public comment and the rules in place to keep it under control.”

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