Dwight Lewis

By Dwight Lewis

“It is not good enough for you to say to your child, ‘Do good in school’, and then when the child comes home, you’ve got the TV on. You’ve got radio on. You don’t check their homework. You’ve got the video game playing … So turn off the TV set. Put the video games away. Buy a little desk. Or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don’t know how to do it, give ‘em help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher. Make ‘em go to bed at a reasonable time! Keep ‘em off the streets! Give ’em some breakfast! … And if your child misbehaves in school, don’t cuss out the teacher! Do something with your child!

Senator Barack Obama, Speaking to a Beaumont, Texas audience, February 18, 2008, (Los Angeles Times, February 29, 2008). From the book The Sea is so Wide and my Boat is so Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation by Marian Wright Edelman, (Hyperion, New York, 2008)  

You could feel the pain coming from 25-year-old Alicia Lewis’s voice.

“I broke down and cried when I heard the news about the shooting,’’ Alicia says as the two of us sit at a table eating dinner at Nashville Swett’s Restaurant on this February 17 Saturday night. “When I was in high school, going to Austin-East was the one place that you could go to escape everything. It was a safe place.

“Shootings and other bad things happened elsewhere in the Knoxville community sometimes but Austin-East was a safe place for me.’’

The shooting Alicia Lewis referred to occurred at Knoxville’s Austin-East Magnet High School on Monday afternoon, April 12, approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled 3:30 p.m. closing time. Authorities say 17-year-old Anthony J. Thompson Jr., was shot to death by Knoxville police during a confrontation in a restroom at the East Knoxville school.

The incident happened after school officials had earlier received word that a gun was in the school. Thompson’s death made him the fifth teenager to die a violent death in Knoxville this year, all by gunfire.  

Alicia Lewis happens to be my niece. And like me, she was born in Knoxville. Alicia graduated from Austin-East in 2014 and went on to graduate from the University of Tennessee.

I graduated from Austin High School in Knoxville in June 1965, and that was before Austin and East were merged beginning in the fall of 1967.

Like Alicia, I was pained to hear there had been a shooting at a high school in my hometown. Any shooting is bad but one at a high school you know so well.

Unfortunately, gun violence is taking place too often nowadays, and it’s not just in Knoxville.  Those of us who live in Nashville surely know about the tragic shooting death of three-year-old Jamaylah Marlowe on the night of April 12. She was shot to death as shots were fired into a crowd of people who had gathered in a parking lot at the Cumberland Garden Apartments.

Why? This past Monday, April 19, a friend sent me an article from The Washington Post about a 12-year-old boy who had been arrested in Capitol Heights, Maryland in the shooting death of a 12-year-old boy on Saturday night as authorities say approximately 100 preteens and teenagers “clustered around a scene that had started as a weekend hangout and morphed into a deadly dispute.’’

What in the world was a 12-year-old boy doing with a gun? If you think that is unusual, Metro Nashville Juvenile Court records show that in 2019, there were 163 arrests of juveniles here on handgun charges. In 2020, that number dropped to 158 arrests on handgun charges, still way too many.

As Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and others push for laws to make it easier for most adults to carry guns without permits, we continue to see more and more of our youth, and adults, here and elsewhere dying of gun violence.

These senseless deaths make no sense. “It’s insane,’’ Marian Wright Edelman, the former director of the Washington, D.C., Children Defense Fund, told me Sunday afternoon during a telephone call. “We need to put the heat on our governors, legislators and members of Congress to do something about these guns that are out here. We need more people to write letters urging that these officials take some positive action that will put a stop to these senseless shootings.’’

She’s absolutely right.