Chattanooga Ministry Condemns Visitors Bureau for Criminalizing Poverty


John John(CHATTANOOGA TN) — Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center, a ministry of the Presbytery of East Tennessee, on Tuesday condemned the arrest of Mendon John Price on charges of “aggressive panhandling” and the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau’s labeling of him as “the number one enemy downtown.”

The ministry issued a statement calling on the Visitors Bureau to apologize and for all charges, fines and penalties to be dismissed against Price. In addition, the Justice and Peace Center’s building partner, Chattanooga Organized for Action, began an online fundraiser to help Price pay for legal fees and court costs as a result of the arrest. The fundraiser can be found at:

Price, who is restricted to a wheelchair due to the loss of one of his legs, was arrested on Thursday evening during a symphony performance at the Tivoli Theatre.

Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center Co-Director Beth Foster said the ministry is planning further action to support Price and to raise awareness about the treatment of panhandlers and poor and homeless people in the tourist district.

Below is the statement issued by Mercy Junction:

Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center, which includes both followers of Jesus Christ and an interfaith community, condemns the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau’s criminalization of poverty and the labeling of our economically disadvantaged sisters and brothers as “the enemy.” We condemn the oppressive mass incarceration and policing systems that enable the city to value a tourist’s dollar over the lives of its own citizens.

We call out the lies of the powerful and question the legitimacy of the charge that Mendon John Price was “aggressively panhandling.” We know Mr. Price, who we call John John. We know him as a gentle, respectful and kind person.

We demand that the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau apologize for calling Mr. Price the “number one enemy downtown.” In a city filled with the violence of capitalism, racism and patriarchy, in a city where children are hungry and elders are homeless, the Visitors Bureau’s statement is deeply offensive on many levels, only one of which is signaling out a deeply loved member of our community – our differently-abled, wheel chair-bound brother, who has only one leg – as the enemy

We also call on the Chattanooga Police Department and the court system to dismiss any charges, as well as any fines and penalties, against Mr. Price. They are unfair and unfounded and using precious public resources that should be directed toward making our city a better place to live for all Chattanoogans.

The Rev. Brian Merritt, co-director of Mercy Junction who serves as a minister at Renaissance Presbyterian Church, where Mr. Price often attends, points to Christ’s attempts to radically tear down the oppressive systems that keep some in power and others shackled to poverty.

“John was at church this Sunday,” Rev. Merritt said. “After the service he came up to me in his wheelchair and said, ‘I liked what you said when you said, This is the day that the Lord has made. That is true.’ John can teach the powerful of this city a valuable lesson about gratitude. Maybe they will repent and strive to be a city that is grateful for all its citizens. Then it will be the day the Lord intended.”

Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center is a new ministry of the Presbytery of East Tennessee and operates the former St. Andrews Center at 1918 Union Ave. in Chattanooga.

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