By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — The meeting was held via Zoom. The purpose of the meeting was to talk to Mayor Indya Kincannon about the state of emergency in the black community of Knoxville: what programs are in place, what is not available and action plans needed to move forward.
Sponsored by Knoxville Renaissance leaders Nikki Frank and Tennion Reed; the meeting was viewed by over 4500 and moderated by Tearsa Smith of WATE TV6. On the zoom were several of Knoxville’s community leaders, including Charles Lomax, newly appointed Community Empowerment Director for the city of Knoxville, and Darris Upton, the Knox County Diversity Development Director. The conversation brought everyone together to discuss education, systemic obstacles to black wealth and the Knoxville police force and bridging the gap between them and the black community.
The education gaps brought up during the conversation revealed the need to return trades to the school curriculum, the need to address the poverty barriers, lack of mental health resources, lack of positive role models and no black mentors in the school system. Cultural competency training , Saturday schools, especially in the post covid-19 return to class to bridge the lost education gap were discussed. The issue of the need for Knox County Schools to have an advisory minority council was also raised by Reggie Jenkins of UUNIK Academy who strongly advocated the need for the level of expectations of the children to rise. He also suggested there be more collaboration with the people already working in the field to include churches and community organizations.
During the discussion about systemic obstacles, Mayor Kincannon responded to the questions raised by David Hayes about the history of the racist funding policies used against the black community. Hayes called for more accountability, allocating funds to build in the black community, and moving more funds to social services, housing and mental health needs. One example given during the zoom meeting was the lack of funds given by the city over the decades to rebuild the historic Burlington community. In answer to the Mayors response of 600k set aside to look at the redevelopment came the rebuttal that yet another study was not needed as there was already a plan called I LOVE BURLINGTON drawn up that had been fully developed by the community and business leaders and ignored for years. Other issues came up: lack of black wealth and the 42 percent poverty level of African Americans in Knoxville. Kincannon responded by offering to have city resources be a part of the connections to Knox Equity Partners. Saying she is committed to community wealth building, Kincannon also felt micro lending, and access to capital were important to empower the community as is the need to have Black entrepreneurs having a seat at the table where decisions are made.
The discussion around the excessive policing of the east Knoxville area as compared to the west side of town revealed the need for a zero tolerance policy on racism and bad officers rooted out of the force. City Council woman Amelia Parker pointed out to the mayor the problem of several officers of concern on the force; one of whom has had multiple cases against him thrown out of court despite dash cam video. Kincannon asked to meet with Parker to discuss the officers. The barriers to hiring African Americans from the community, black listing of those who applied, and the need for a community representative to be in on future hiring selections were discussed. Mayor Kincannon said she is not for de funding the police department but would look at redefining public safety, and creating reform. She is committed to body cams for the force stating the funds will be in place by July and is reviewing the the police department use of force policy. Other areas of police reform presented to the mayor were making civilian complaints public, crisis intervention training for new recruits, adjustment to pan handling ordinances, use more citations rather than arrest to relieve over crowding the jail, and more investment in the alternatives to jail for mentally ill.
One definite area of interest when the discussion was raised about the need for more power to be given to PARC (the police advisory review council) was having a high school representative on the council. There was also a call for PARC to be independent and more proactive and the need to enforce recommendations handed down by the council. Kincannon stated she is open to continue discussing these and other issue that were raised during future conversations and suggested inviting Evetty Satterfield, school board representative to join a future meeting to discuss the education issues which fall under the county rule.
Mayor Kincannon, who willing agreed to the zoom meeting also shared her desire that these conversations translate into actions that will have a positive effect in the community.