Council approves anti-violence resolution

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Knoxville City Council meets online Tuesday, April 20.

City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution aimed at supporting civilian anti-violence programs as part of their response to the bloodiest 15 months in Knoxville’s history.

Councilperson Seema Singh withdrew her initial request that the City spend $4 million on top of the $2 million already budgeted for “violence interruption” programs. 

Instead, her amended resolution didn’t specify a dollar amount but did say that if federal monies become available they will be used to fund anti-violence programs that aren’t tied to law enforcement. It also commits the City to working with the many different groups and organizations that are already trying to address the root causes of violence, she said.

“I don’t want to take money away from the police,” Singh said after the meeting. “But I believe the police budget is one of our largest expenses, and it keeps getting funded from other sources…. We need more tools.”

There were 37 homicides in Knoxville in 2020, more than the previous high of 35 in 1998.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been at least 16 slayings in the city, all of them involving firearms. There have also been at least five more homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.

“I think the meat of it (my plan) is still there,” Singh said while explaining her revised resolution to council members. “We need to get together with all kinds of members of the community at the same table. We need to have a strategy to address more than what Cities United is addressing.”

Cities United is a Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit agency that specializes in helping cities reduce inner-city violence. City Council recently approved a $75,000 contract with the agency, to be paid for out of $1 million that Mayor Indya Kincannon earmarked for violence interruption efforts in response to the shooting deaths of several students from Austin-East Magnet High School.

“Cities United is very specific,” Singh said. “Cities United is dealing with the most intense problem we have right now. I’d still like funding for the second-tier of that work. To me, that starts with violence in the home. That’s generational and it will rear its head someplace, sometime in the community.”

Mayor Kincannon praised Singh’s commitment to fighting violence and helping to focus attention on the many potential partners the City has. “Many of the things that can best help reduce violence and promote healing in our community are things outside the government in the private sector, but also our partners who deal in mental health and the criminal justice system.”

Councilperson Amelia Parker expressed frustration at the overall discussion and expressed a desire to restore the written commitment to spend $4 million in additional civilian anti-violence funding. 

“We also began a discussion last year that we have yet to finish, and it was about what are we going to do terms of re-envisioning policing here in Knoxville,” Parker said. “We, like other cities, can bring in alternatives to policing that provide a more safe first responder model for some of the more vulnerable members of our community.”

Parker then alluded to the April 12 shooting death of an Austin-East student during a confrontation with Knoxville Police Department officers in a school restroom.

“Here we are as a city, having just experienced a horrifying, heart wrenching officer-involved shooting in our community and we’re acting as if we have no role to play in the current violence that’s happening around the community,” Parker said.  “I am very confused by that. We have a very direct role to play in keeping our communities and students safe. Many parts of our budget touch them. It’s important that we commit actual dollars that can be used towards violence intervention.”

Soon after passing Singh’s resolution 8-1 (Parker was the one dissenting vote) the council authorized  $13,000 to be donated to “complete the founding” of a nonprofit East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers Association. 

The organization is meant to help KPD secure anonymous tips and help offer rewards in unsolved cases, and the money will come from the $1 million that Kincannon had dedicated “to design and implement effective violence interruption strategies,” records show.

Parker and Singh were the only two council members to oppose the measure, questioning whether the Crime Stoppers measure could legitimately be referred to as a “violence interruption” program. 

“We’re starting off on a bad foot,” Parker said. “This is not a good use of that million dollars.”

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on April 21, 2021