KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville vice mayor Gwen McKenzie spoke out Thursday against Knoxville police chief Eve Thomas, saying she has lost confidence in Thomas' ability to lead and said she believes department leadership has fostered a culture of racism within KPD.
McKenzie voiced her concerns about the Knoxville Police Department, saying the department culture has not fostered an inclusive environment.
The vice mayor placed her concerns solely in department leadership, specifically with chief Thomas.
"There is a problem with leadership at the Knoxville Police Department," she said.
McKenzie said she still believes in the whole of KPD and its officers, saying they are able to carry out their job in African American communities.
However, she said she has concerns about the ability of the department's Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a fair and unbiased investigation into racial complaints -- saying the unit lacks diverse voices.
NAACP president Reverend Sam Brown responded Thursday, saying the public had lost confidence in the department and that, "KPD leadership has shown no willingness to change."
Brown said it was "laughable" the department's internal affairs unit would start an investigation into allegations of racism, calling a previous investigation "an internal coverup."
Brown said the Knoxville branch of the NAACP is beginning to research how to petition the Department of Justice to get involved.
In a statement from the city Thursday, Knoxville mayor Indya Kincannon said she remains confident in Thomas' leadership. Her full statement is below:
"I have confidence in our Police Department. I have confidence in Chief Thomas and I have confidence in our officers. Do we have challenges? Yes. We have to tackle crime head-on and ensure the safety of neighborhoods. We have to address culture issues -- including racism. And -- we have to support our officers and address their concerns about recruitment, retention, wellness and morale. My expectations are clear -- we do not and cannot tolerate racism and must strive for excellence each day and in each interaction as we seek to keep our city safe. I need and trust Chief Thomas to move KPD forward amidst these challenges that we and communities across the country face. We have to tackle these issues together -- not tear each other down."
Chief Eve Thomas also released a statement responding to the vice mayor, saying she is still committed to eliminating cultural issues in the department. Her full statement is below:
“We are committed to addressing the many tough challenges that we face head-on. I am doing that, the Mayor is doing that, and our officers are doing that every day as they work to keep our community safe. We are acting with urgency to confront difficult issues and eliminate any culture issues that threaten to compromise the integrity of the department and public trust.”