7 arrested at County Commission

The Rev. Calvin Skinner is led from an April 19 County Commission work session after he and dozens of other protesters disrupted the meeting. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

Seven people including an East Knoxville minister were arrested at a Monday work session of County Commission after they burst into the main assembly room at the City-County building and demanded that footage from the shooting of a teen at Austin-East Magnet High School be made public. 

The Rev. Calvin Skinner of Mount Zion Baptist Church and six other protesters were charged with disrupting a meeting, a Class B misdemeanor, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Although there have been numerous protests and rallies since Anthony Thompson Jr., 17, was killed during a confrontation with Knoxville Police Department officers on April 12, Monday’s “direct action” was the first time that anyone has been arrested.

Tactics will continue to escalate unless District Attorney General Charme Allen allows bodycam footage of the incident to be released, said David Hayes, an activist and former City Council candidate.

“We have to keep escalating,” Hayes said. “Look at the history of the civil rights movement, there has always been people risking arrest and getting arrested. Martin Luther King got arrested hundreds of times fighting for justice, so this is what we gotta do. We have to make sure that our voices are heard.

Protesters disrupt Monday’s work session of County Commission to demand the release of police videos. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

“We went in there, we disturbed the meeting, we shut it down for a second. All eyes were on us. All eyes were on the fact that justice has not been done for Anthony Thompson Jr. Eyes were on the fact that they need to release the tapes, so I hope that this builds momentum for the cause.” 

The group of approximately 40 protesters first gathered in front of the City-County Building around 6 p.m. to discuss tactics beforehand. When they reckoned the time was right, they peacefully made their way one-by-one through the security checkpoint and then marched into the main assembly room, fists clenched in raised hands.

A protester then turned on the siren feature of a bullhorn, drowning out the meeting and causing all heads to turn in their direction.

A group of Knox County sheriff’s deputies rushed the crowd and began escorting protesters from the room. Some of them went quietly while others, such as event organizer Constance Every, screamed obscenities at the officers and called them “murderers.”

Rev. Skinner preached as though he was in front of a Sunday morning congregation even as he was being led from the room by officers. 

“Justice is not taking place in this city,” Skinner intoned. “We have a justice absence. I am a man of faith that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no separation between our faith and our justice work as a man of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

As the arrests were made, the remaining protesters were escorted out of the City-County building. They immediately reconvened just outside the front glass doors and resumed chanting “No justice, No peace!” so loudly their voices could still be heard on the CCTV broadcast of the meeting. 

“It went pretty well,” Hayes said afterward. “We had people who stood up to the system and tried to halt racism. They knew what they signed up for. Hopefully, they get out very soon. We had a lot of people who came at the same time and made our presence known.” 

When asked why protesters didn’t sign up to comment during the public forum to express their views, Hayes replied, “Would you be looking at me with the microphones and with the cameras if I did that? Probably not. All in all, we were effective in our tactics.”

He continued: “Unfortunately, it takes things like this to get change. We wish that we could just sit at home and sign petitions. I wish that I didn’t have the trauma from police violence. I wish that they didn’t get traumatized inside from getting roughed up and beaten by police. Unfortunately, this is what we have to do to get the change we need in our communities. We are tired of young people dying.”

Protesters demand the release of police videos Monday at a County Commission work session. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com. 

Published on April 20, 2021