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'We still have a long way to go' | Gun violence conversation continues in Knoxville five years after it began

The 2016 Stop the Violence forum came after Zaevion Dobson's death. He died shielding his friends from gunfire in 2015.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It's been 5 years since a powerful community conversation demanded change, specifically with gun violence in Knoxville. 

The Stop the Violence forum came after Zaevion Dobson's death. He died shielding his friends from gunfire in 2015.

Five years ago, that passionate and powerful conversation happened within Knoxville. A 12-year-old even spoke up and asked why it took Dobson's death to start the conversation.

"People were angry, grieving, wanted change and wanted to use their voices," said Tatia Harris, who was at the forum discussing gun violence.

Now in 2021, she said people still feel the same way.

"The passion, energy, grieving, hope. All of that is still there," she said. "A lot of things that caused these problems. They've been addressed but we still have a long way to go in changing the causes for that."

Harris is Knoxville's Diversity and Inclusion Officer. She has also worked with Save Our Sons which focused on helping at-risk Black youth. It has evolved into Empower Knox, which works to ensure organizations have the capability to meet the community's needs.

She said that a lack of opportunities, healthcare and jobs for people who are at-risk help contribute to gun violence in East Tennessee.

"Five years later, poor people, black people, immigrants are still on the lower end of receiving," she said. "We just have to figure out how to increase the level of impact they have in order to make a long-lasting and significant change."

She said that 2020 helped expose several disparities that contribute to gun violence and that she hopes that leaders will be more likely to take action on them. 

"We move forward with more vigor and passion," she said. "Start tackling some of these issues and finding solutions and rolling out strategies."

According to KPD, 33 people died from shots fired incidents in 2020. So far in 2021, six people have died.