Activists say tensions rising

Activists argue with security outside a recent Board of Education meeting. Photo by Jenna Stambaugh.

It’s been 35 days since 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. was shot and killed in a restroom at his high school.  

In what has become one of the longest ongoing protests in the history of Knoxville activism, protesters have been hitting the streets on most of those days.

They’ve disrupted meetings; staged marches and car caravans; spoken out during public forums; participated in youth rallies; prayed at candlelight vigils and picketed both the offices and houses of elected officials.     

Although they’ve strictly adhered to a strategy of non-violence, their continued presence has recently been met with progressively aggressive opposition.  

At a protest held during May 12 the Board of Education meeting, Carrie Hopper and another activist were not allowed back into the meeting by City-County Building security officers from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.  

Hopper hadn’t shouted at the board members as some of the protesters had done, although she was seated with them and took their side when she spoke during the public forum.

The officers declined to cite a specific reason for not letting them back into the building even though they had not been arrested or even asked to leave the meeting.  

At the same time, anti-mask protesters who were equally disruptive during the meeting weren’t barred from re-entry after taking breaks.   

On May 14, when protesters gathered on the streets of the Fourth and Gill neighborhood in front of Mayor Indya Kincannon’s house, activist Erin Sweeney said she was pepper-sprayed by an unidentified man who drove by yelling racial slurs from a black Nissan Titan pickup truck with business plates.  

Sweeney later posted on her Facebook page that she wasn’t going to be deterred by an eyeful of capsaicin.

“Today I’m particularly grateful for street medics but getting maced ain’t gonna stop me from participating in the fight for justice and liberation,” she said.

A photo posted on Facebook by local activists of a man who allegedly pepper-sprayed a protester Friday.

Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at 

Published on May 17, 2021