‘This is the better way,’ says activist arrested during protests at government meetings

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Constance Every, a political activist and leader of the protest movement, moments after she was placed under arrested May 4. Photo by Jenna Stambaugh.

A Knox County grand jury may be in the process of deciding whether to prosecute seven activists for disrupting a local government meeting, but the leaders of the group say no matter the outcome they won’t change their ways.

In fact, local activist Constance Every has a message for General Sessions Court Judge Patricia Long, who told Every and her co-defendants last week that they should find a better way to communicate their message. 

“My rebuttal to Patricia Long will be that this is the better way,” Every said. “Because the only other better way would be violence in the manner of what we receive as Black people, and more importantly, as protesters. We have always had to face violence.” 

Every and the Rev. Calvin Skinner of Mount Zion Baptist Church are leaders in the protest movement that erupted in the aftermath of the death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr., who was shot to death during an armed struggle with four Knoxville police officers in a restroom at Austin-East Magnet High School early this year.

Every, Skinner and five other protesters, were arrested April 19  at a Knox County Commission work session on misdemeanor charges of disrupting a public meeting. Every and Skinner were also arrested at a Knoxville City Council meeting on May 4. 

Every and Skinner told Hard Knox Wire in a recent interview that the group of protesters arrested at the April 19 meeting have since dubbed themselves “The Anthony Thompson Jr. Seven” and they plan to ensure the focus remains on the slain teen.

The group appeared before Judge Long on November 18 for their preliminary hearing, and  Every’s comments about Long were in response to what was said during the proceedings. The charges against the group were bound over to the grand jury, which has the choice of filing formal charges at the Criminal Court level or dropping them altogether.

Skinner, for his part, is hardly less incendiary than his fellow activist. 

“They are literally trying to erase the name of Anthony Thompson Jr.,” said Skinner. “In the court proceedings, his name was only mentioned the time that our defense attorney mentioned his name. We know that trying to erase Anthony Thompson Jr. is really an attempt to delegitimize what we know is important in terms of this movement, and erasing Anthony Thompson Jr. gives the Knoxville Police Department, the Knox County School Board, all government officials  — it gives them a pass to continue to develop an oppressive environment.”

He continued, “We’re unapologetic. We are not deterred, we are not distracted by any ways to try to squelch what we are trying to do. The were several threats to muzzle us, but we continue to be actively inspired by what we are witnessed across the nation from other justice fighters.”

Skinner and Every said the “Anthony Thompson Jr. Seven” intend to continue fighting for what they see as justice for the teen’s family. 

According to Every, however, the actions taken so far fail to address the root of the issue of racism.

“We’re gonna have to continue to use this broken system — that’s the reality, the system is broken,” she said. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. This is a broken system we are operating in… We keep trying to put band-aids over a wound that needs stitches and some disinfectant applied to it. Neosporin ain’t gonna heal this wound. We need to do some real internal cleanout work to really get that damage and dead tissue out of there and allow it to heal itself over. 

“And yes, it will leave a scar, but that scar will serve as a reminder for what we did and how we messed up and learn from that, and we don’t ever want to get that kind of hurt again in our country.”

Every said that after feeling disappointed in the failure of politicians to take action on issues of inequity, she intends to run for governor of Tennessee to implement changes herself.

“You know what? You’re right, [Judge Long], there is a better way,” Every said. “And the way is that I can go hold office where I can really do something and make my pen one of the most powerful things I own, because now I can write policy and impose policy … and start holding people accountable.”

She added: “I’m gonna say, ‘This is what you gotta do,’ and if you don’t do it, I ain’t about to be putting Calvin and Constance Every in courtrooms. I’m gonna start putting Indya Kincannon and Chief Thomas in courtrooms.”

Since the crime the “Anthony Thompson Jr. Seven” are accused of is a Class B misdemeanor, it’s unlikely the defendants will spend much (if any) time behind bars even if they are convicted. 

Non-violent offenders, especially those without a significant criminal record, tend to be placed on probation in Knox County. At worst, the maximum sentence for Class B misdemeanors (which include offenses like reckless driving and prostitution) is six months in jail plus a $500 fine.

Editor J.J. Stambaugh contributed to this report

Megan Sadler can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com.

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

Published on November 23, 2021.