Protesters talk rage, boycott

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A crowd of protesters Wednesday outside a meeting of the Knox County school board. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh

The uncle of a slain Austin-East Magnet High School student lashed out at local officials and the media Wednesday at a protest held outside the City-County Building while the Knox County school board met inside. 

Like other speakers, Clifford Bishop said he didn’t trust school officials, local elected leaders or the police to keep children safe at Austin-East.

Bishop’s nephew, 16-year-old Stanley Freeman Jr., was one of five Austin-East students to be killed by gunfire this semester. Although police arrested a pair of teen suspects shortly after Freeman’s death, they didn’t tell anyone about the arrests for several weeks and instead blamed a lack of cooperation from the community for the apparent lack of progress, he said.

“When my nephew got killed outside of AE they had those guys arrested three days after he got shot,” Bishop said. “They had you all believe that we didn’t care about our kids in the community when no one was coming forward. Why did they wait a month to charge these guys? So people in the community would think that we didn’t care about our kids?”

He continued: “Law enforcement is not the kids’ job. Don’t ask kids to snitch when you aren’t doing your job. I’m telling you not to do it — kids, don’t snitch. There are adults out here who know what is going on. Let the adults do that.” 

Bishop also criticized news reporters and elected officials, drawing loud applause from the rain-soaked crowd of 50 or so protesters. “Quit believing what you all hear in the media,” he said. “The media cut everything I say short. They cut everything I say in in half.”

 He continued: “We need you, (Vice Mayor) Gwen Mckenzie — we shouldn’t have to look for you when something like this happens.  We need you here.  We know that you can’t do this all by yourself, but you need to be here…. We need our elected official to come and talk to us to understand what we are saying.” 

One of protest’s organizers, Constance Every, urged parents to not allow their children to attend school until all the facts have been made public about the death of Anthony Thompson Jr. The 17-year-old was shot and killed during a confrontation with Knoxville Police Department officers in a school restroom Monday 

“Parents, I would suggest do not send your children to school. Boycott the school, until we get the truth,” Every told the crowd. 

Every went on to say the community doesn’t trust the school system’s leadership or anyone else in local government to keep children safe in school. 

“I’m supposed to believe that parents want to send their children back to school with a bunch of murderous cops walking the hallways,” she said. “No. That’s not an option. That’s not a choice. That’s called suicide.”   

Tanika Harper, Founder and CEO of the nonprofit Shora Foundation, addressed a question that lay close to the hearts of many protesters. 

This list of demands was passed out at Wednesday’s protest outside of a Knox County school board meeting.

“What can we do?  We know that violence is part of a chain,” she said. “We are sitting at a 42% poverty rate among Black people in Knoxville before Covid, so who knows where it is now?

“We need development in our community. We need investment in our community.  We need money and resources in these organizations who are showing up right here and right now advocating and expressing the concerns because they are the front liners that know exactly what is needed to help these people that we serve. So, when people ask me what is an action that you can do, an action would be to reach out to someone who might know who you can help and ask them how you can help. Be the doer. Be a change maker. Be someone that is really about reducing the 42% poverty rate. “ 

Harper also encouraged citizens to use their voices on social media to press officials to release the bodycam footage of Thompson’s shooting.

“We want to know what really happened. We need to give 110 percent to find out what really happened to Mr. Anthony Thompson,” she said.

Jessica Wilson told the crowd that she had a message for other white people at the event. “We bleed the same, we eat the same, we shit the same. It is time that we put these weapons down and quit shooting our Black men and quit shooting our Black innocent children that go to school. It is time to stop it, Knoxville. 

“This is the fifth kid from this school. Is it not hard for you to sleep at night knowing that the ones out here patrolling our streets, that are supposed to protect us, are killing our kids? Is it right that they are patrolling our schools on the inside? He could have easily sprayed three things of mace into that bathroom and got them boys out. Why did you shoot that little boy? Why did you put those bullets in that little boy? ….I say to white people, it’s time to put your foot down.” 

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

Published on April 15, 2021