Chattanooga hip-hop artist, activist, and steward of creative youth Cameron Williams discusses how and why to support the movement for Black lives.
Photo by Reginald Clack
Many locals know Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams for his engaging musical performances and the work he does with the Chattanooga Public Library to support young artists and creatives. More recently though, he’s emerged as one of the leaders and loudest voices behind I Can’t Breathe Cha—a group of activists who have organized peaceful protests and sparked discussion surrounding racial injustice and police brutality in Chattanooga for the last several weeks.
Cameron has experienced Chattanooga's discriminatory justice system firsthand. Just recently, on Sunday, July 12, the Chattanooga Police Department issued warrants for his arrest, along with fellow organizer Marie Mott and two other demonstrators. After willingly turning themselves in, they were charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway. These charges were based on claims that the protesters blocked a downtown intersection and stalled emergency vehicles responding to a call on Friday, July 10. However, video footage captured by another demonstrator clearly shows the protesters moving out of the intersection and allowing two fire trucks to pass through expeditiously. While they were in police custody, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office added theft, vandalism, reckless burning and inciting-to-riot charges for Williams and Mott in response to their demonstration on Thursday, July 9, where they burned a HCSO flag in Miller Park.
Many community members have questioned the accuracy and extremity of these charges, especially those coming from the Sheriff’s Office—which holds civilians accountable for burnt fabric but continues to employ the deputies who brutalized a handcuffed Reginald Arrington Jr. on Saturday, May 23, and the officers who tear gassed peaceful protestors on Sunday, May 31. It’s due to the CPD and HCSO’s overt systemic racism and unjustified brutality that the community has been protesting and calling for their divestment for nearly seven weeks straight.
C-Grimey’s voice has been among the most predominant and provocative of the movement, but it was only after he saw the need for his experience with activism and knowledge of the justice system that he assumed a leading role.
“The first two nights [of protests], I was just supporting young people who took it upon themselves to organize,” Cameron said. “As a more seasoned protester and activist, I wanted to come through, show solidarity and ultimately make sure the little homies were safe."
“After the second night it got heated,” he continued. “The National Guard came out, tear gas was deployed, and so that next morning some of the little homies called me very upset, very hurt by what their local law enforcement had done to them … It seemed like officials and law enforcement didn’t want to hear their voices, that they were trying to hurt them.”
“They wanted to retaliate with violence, destruction, vandalism, et cetera, and I didn’t want to see young brothers and sisters get hurt, murdered, criminalized, jailed—so that’s when I stepped in and started [I Can’t Breathe Cha].”
Since then, the organization has led protests in Chattanooga and initiated crucial dialogue about divesting from the police budget and allocating funds directly into the community.
In June, Cameron worked alongside The Artist Seven, members of I Can’t Breathe Cha, RISE Chattanooga and volunteers from around the community to paint a mural on Martin Luther King Blvd. that reads “Black Lives Matter!” Although the mural is a huge testament to the efforts put forth by the community so far, Cameron says there’s more to be done, especially by local artists and public figures.
“I definitely think more creators and entertainers should come out and use their voice to support the movement for Black lives—to support activism for human rights period,” he said.
“You see a lot of [expletive] woke people on social media who I ain’t seen out mobilizing for the movement in this crucial time in history. We want to see a lot more mobilization from people with platforms … If you’re able-bodied and willing to come to a protest, I would encourage you to get out there. There’s strength in numbers. There’s strength in diversity.”
“When it comes to amplifying Black voices,” he continued, “that may be the number one job of our White allies—to advocate for the struggle, advocate for betterment, educate themselves and their counterparts, and be the voice for change.”
At a protest on Friday, June 26, Cameron challenged activists and demonstrators not to give into the fears and fatigue that come with the fight against racial injustice—especially when their efforts are met with opposition, or when the names of victims are no longer trending on social media.
“The initial fear is stepping up and stepping out,” he said later. “Once you do that, especially speaking out against the powers that be … you get backlash.” Cameron referenced instances where activists and leaders have been wrongfully jailed, beaten, and even killed.
“There’s the fear of failure, of letting the people down,” he added. “We’re hyping the people up and getting them encouraged for their civic duties and civic engagement, and there’s always the fear that the ‘powers that be’ will use all their resources and influence to hard block what the people are trying to do—that you won’t get a victory.”
“But my biggest fear is the fear that I conquer every day, and that’s the fear of not trying,” he concluded. “I don’t want to live with regret and say, ‘I could have been out there doing something,’ when I was on my couch, in the A/C with my feet up.”
Cameron shared that despite the fears, fatigue and opposition he constantly faces, and despite the challenge of waking up and protesting every day without earning a living from it, securing justice would make the struggle totally worthwhile.
“I still have hope that one day, Black people will have true liberation,” he said.
Venmo for legal fees: @icantbreatheCHA
Hamilton County Bail Fund - helps protestors and locals who cannot afford to post bail