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New Knoxville director of community safety discusses new role to prevent violence

After another teen shooting death, Lakenya Middlebrook spoke about her new role and the ideas she has to prevent violence in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — LaKenya Middlebrook has a new title in Knoxville along with many new responsibilities, but they're in a place she's familiar with — her home. And she said that she knows the work ahead as the city's new Director of Community Safety is urgent.

"It's going to take time, a lot of the strategies that we think are thinking about are going to take time to build out effectively," she said. "There has to be a sense of urgency in doing this work because we don't want to continue to see a loss of life."

Knoxville's rising homicides and shootings are not due to a single factor, she said. Instead, she said it is the result of a multi-faceted problem that did not start this year.

"The impacts of systemic racism, poverty, of lack of access to supportive services, and economic opportunities and mental health services and the disconnect from community and resources [contribute to violence]," she said.

They are not problems with easy solutions. Yet, these problems have almost taken more lives in Knoxville than ever before. The latest teen death puts the city at 32 fatal shootings in 2021; only one shooting shy from the record of 33 deaths last year.

She says it will take teamwork — not just one person or one group but the entire city — to prevent violence in the community.

"We are really focused on building a plan and a strategy for addressing these issues as a city and pulling in all of the pieces together," she said. "Because it's not one person, or one department, or one service provider, or one community organization's responsibility. There's a role for all of us to play in that."

She wants to stop losing valued people in our community. And she said that people who can and do to play a part to prevent violence and contribute to our city.

"These are individuals, these are members of our community. These are fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, and cousins and classmates" she said.