First We Pray…Then We Protest

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — George Floyd was dead. The reaction was swift across the land, including in Knoxville.

The call from Black Lives Matter and Black Coffee Justice  traveled across the city at a warp speed. Activist Constance

Mayor Kincannon attended the prayer. Photo by Vivian Shipe

Every called for a protest rally to be held on the grounds of the Knoxville Police

Constance Every, community activist who called for the rally.
Photo by Vivian Shipe

Station Friday evening from 6 till 8 pm. The rally would not end till well after 9 pm. By the time it ended, over a thousand would have marched peacefully, with no police presence. Before they would march however,  another call would be answered.

As fast as the call to protest went over the air waves, so did the call by Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie to the faith community to come and gather at 5:30 pm at police headquarters ahead of the protest with one mission: Pray.

Pastors and faith leaders of both races started gathering at 5 pm. Even Mayor Indya Kincannon came for the prayer session, leaving after it was over, keeping her word of no police or authoritarian presence during the protest. Holding a portable mic system she pulled out of the back of her car; McKenzie gathered the faith leaders in a socially distancing circle. They were all wearing face masks due to COVID-19 guidelines, with some wearing their collars of faith.

Even as they prepared to pray, the racially diverse crowd, which would swell to over a 1,000 strong, began to gather

Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie preparing for the prayer vigil.
Photo by Vivian Shipe

and surround the leaders with their signs of “I can’t breathe,” and “No Justice No Peace” and other signs of demands. 

Unwavered, one by one the pastors stepped into the circle and prayed over the event, prayed for the nation, prayed for the protestors, and prayed for the families who had lost loved ones. As the last pastor finished a little before 6 pm; the leaders of the protest rally stepped up to the mic and the rally and protest began.

The crowd would hear from speakers about their demands for body cameras on the police and the need for the Police Advisory Review Committee to have more power and authority. Then at 7 pm, the crowd began to move as one unit. They would flow chanting up to Gay Street and across main roads unhindered by police. Onward they would  march until they reached the heart of the University of Tennessee where in the middle of Cumberland Avenue, they knelt, led by Constance Every, they were silent for 8 minutes and 49 seconds, significant to the amount of time it took to murder George Floyd.

For all who had died with no justice….

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