By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — It wasn’t the first time the community had risen up in protest of gun shows being held for over a decade in the gun zone of East Knoxville in Chilhowee Park. The first rallying cry was held by Lawrence Washington, the founder of Safe Haven, an organization that provides support to inner city youth to get out of and stay out of gangs.
This time the call came from a formidable leader: District Six council woman Gwen
McKenzie (first African American woman to serve on citycouncil) who represents the people of the community in which the gun shows are held. East Knoxville is the home of the majority of African Americans of Knoxville.
Answering her was Founder of Mothers on Mission or MOM; an organization of mothers who have lost children to violence, Terry Walker-Smith. She wasn’t the only one to heed the call.
When McKenzie sent out the call to hold a peaceful gun protest on February 16th, along Magnolia Ave; the street that runs in front of Chilhowee Park, among those who lined the road were pastors, community leaders and many more of the community. They stood , some with their children; holding hand made signs and pictures of victims; their message plain: get the guns OUT!
Ironically, It was also over 10 years ago East Knoxville was labeled “The Gun Zone” due to gun violence in parts of East Knoxville. McKenzie stated that this stero-type created a severe negative impact to our community that we are still working to overcome. Per McKenzie, she, along with East Knoxville residence, the City and Knoxville Police Department are committed to erase that label and promote East Knoxville as the great
place it is to live. East Knoxville has seen a huge decline in violent crime in 2018.
In 2017, Gun bill HB508 which prohibits state and local government from prohibiting or restricting the possession of a firearm on state or local government owned and operated property unless the owning government provides a metal detector, etc.. that same year Knoxville City Officials made a controversial move to state no guns would not be permitted in Chilhowee Park (the city received one lawsuit which was settled).
While City Officials made a bold move to not allow gun owners with carry permits to carry guns on Chilhowee Park property, they somehow failed to acknowledge that the East Knoxville community had voiced previously that gun shows were NOT welcome in Chilhowee Park as well.
Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie stated that removing gun shows is not a new topic in her district, but it is a new day!
Councilwoman McKenzie stated there are no additional gun shows booked at Chilhowee Park currently and she is hopeful the City can work with all parties involved to reach a positive resolution to relocate the gun shows outside of East Knoxville prior to any further bookings.
**East Knoxville is home to several family friendly destinations that include Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Mabry Hazen House, The Botanical Garden, Zoo Knoxville, James White Fort and Women’s Hall of Fame.
The community wants the gun show moved to another location. This was already accomplished in Davidson County a few years ago when the council there voted the shows out of the parks. The people of East Knoxville want the same thing: sooner rather than later.