KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A group exploded in anger against Knoxville's police force after they said the agencies harmed Black communities in several high-profile incidents. They arrived at a Knoxville City Council meeting Tuesday to speak out.
During the meeting, city leaders approved a resolution to spend up to $43,000 for help from the Police Executive Research Forum on finding a new Chief of Police for the city. Two people spoke against the decision, with one saying he wanted a guarantee that input from the community would matter more in hiring decisions than whatever the Police Executive Research Forum reported.
He also said he was concerned about the recent death of Robert Bailey while he was in police custody as well as the recent arrest of activist and former City Council candidate David Hayes during a meeting about the search for a new police chief.
"Are there any other secret warrants waiting for folks to attend city events? Should everyone who attends a city-run public information session be worried? Or just Black people who run for office?" said Tyler Givens, who also spoke during the event. "We need transparency and accountability immediately."
Mayor Indya Kincannon said PERF would take community input from several leaders and use that information to create a job description for the new chief of police. Kincannon said they could not attend Knoxville's meeting because they are based in Chattanooga and face COVID-19 issues.
Kincannon also said they would help make sure the pool of applicants was as large as possible.
"It really doesn't make the difference who the next police chief will be, because it'll be the same old, same old that will keep on going on," another speaker said.
A group later erupted in anger at a proposal that would provide increased police overtime pay that was discussed at the same meeting, criticizing them for choosing to pay police more at a time when they face so much controversy.
The grant was from the Appalachia High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in the amount of $143,000, which would be used to combat narcotics crimes.
Parker said that the grant could have been used on programs that would help people overcome substance abuse issues and find treatment for mental health issues. She said the city council was simply choosing not to use the money in treatment and prevention options, instead choosing to use it to increase police overtime, and she was the only one to vote against it.
Parker also brought up concerns with a proposal to spend up to $348,750 on a disparity study with Miller3 Consulting. She said she was tired of repeatedly getting disparity studies but not following through on their recommendations.
The studies are meant to reveal racial, gender and other kinds of disparities in a city.
"It's just maddening," Parker said. "We need a report. It's that damning on this city. You talk to Black contractors about projects that would support Black contractors, and were quickly ended when they get pushback from the state or whatever ... It's been constant pushback from the city for the last 22 years. What we need to do now is speak truthfully as a city."
Officials said it would take around a year for the study to be completed. Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie said she agreed with many of Parker's comments. She said that she would be committed to holding people accountable after the study is completed.
She said that the city has received emails from the Attorney General when Madeline Rogero was mayor, saying that the city could not do something despite federal law.
The meeting's public forum also gave a platform to the anger over Knoxville's policing, to the death of Bailey, to the arrest of Hayes and to historical policies that harmed Black communities.
"I had to listen to Randy Boyd on y'alls joint commission or whatever about the stadium, and nobody challenged him," said one person who spoke during the public forum. "He said the property he owned had nothing to do with Urban Renewal. That is the biggest lie I've ever heard ... Time is wasting, too many lives depend on you doing what you're supposed to."
Constance Every and several other prominent activists also spoke, addressing the city council. She compared the death of Bailey to a White inmate who escaped prison and lived after hours of negotiations. He was unharmed, she said, a different result compared to Hayes.
"He is still able to speak to his mother, unlike Robert Nathan Bailey," she said. "Giving them any type of monetary expenditure does not say we have a zero-tolerance policy in our department. So may questions is: when are you going to stop cutting checks to crooks?"
David Hayes also spoke during the meeting following his arrest.
"When you go through police brutality, when you get beat by police, every strike, punch, kick and threat reinforces this realization that you may not survive this," he said. "On Friday, when I was in a dark room getting beat on by a sheriff, I felt that."
He later said he felt that terror from police before, during protests and demonstrations. He said that Anthony Thompson Jr. and Robert Bailey likely felt it too.
"To the sheriff's department, to KPD, to the attorney general's office — if you thought Friday's brutality would stop me, stop us, I have news for you," he said. "My fight won't be extinguished. To Officer Chaperone, the racist officer who decided to beat me up the other day, I look forward to seeing you in court."