Weekend protests make their way west

A motorcade of protesters travels westbound on Middlebrook Pike to stage a demonstration in front of a house they mistakenly believed to belong to Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen last year. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

Protesters on Sunday took careful aim at Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen …. and missed.

The farcical ending to a weekend spent rallying from one end of town to the other came on a residential street in the Hardin Valley community of West Knox County after several dozen protesters spent approximately two hours rallying in front of what they mistakenly believed to be Allen’s house.

Allen, who became the first woman elected to the post of District Attorney General in 2014, decided last week not to criminally charge any of the four Knoxville Police Department officers who were involved in the shooting death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr.

The decision enraged police critics, many of whom on Sunday chanted slogans and help up signs demanding “Justice for Anthony!” before word spread that Allen had moved from the house several months earlier. 

Protesters in front of a West Knox County house they mistakenly believed to be DA Charme Allen’s home. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

Local activist Alistair Elliott didn’t consider the protest a loss.

“To me, it doesn’t matter if we were at the wrong house,” Elliott said. “All our protests have been in the downtown, (UT) campus area, or East Knoxville. West Knoxville needs to see us too. When we say, ‘no justice, no peace,’ this is what we mean. Our protests are meant to disrupt and no part of Knoxville is immune to the disruptions.”

Protesters have held a series of escalating demonstrations meant to disrupt daily life in East Knoxville and downtown since shortly after Thompson’s death. They intensified after Allen cleared the officers, with increasing numbers of people taking to the streets with a litany of demands: halting gentrification, decreasing the number of Blacks incarcerated and preventing other instances of police violence.

On Saturday night, demonstrators met at Dr. Walter Hardy Park. They then marched through the downtown area with a parade of cars at their heels that snarled traffic for several blocks. 

“Anthony played basketball with my son for years and years,” said one woman who spoke through a megaphone. “He was the sweetest child that could have just as easily been my son…. Ant was a child. He was my son’s age. There were four police. He wasn’t trying to shoot them.They were trying to make it like he was trying to kill the police. No, he wasn’t! He was a scared little boy in the bathroom. If he was white, he would still be alive, but since he was black, they didn’t give a damn.”

Rev. Calvin Skinner holds a megaphone aloft in the Old City during Saturday’s protest. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

As Saturday’s procession wound through the Old City, the Reverend Calvin Skinner of Mount Zion Baptist Church explained the area’s history to his fellow marchers. 

“We are standing on the ground of what used to be historic black Knoxville,” he said. “City leaders wrecked our place of prosperity. You all removed us. We are here to declare that Black lives matter. We are no longer asking permission, we are demanding what’s ours.  We are demanding justice. We are demanding peace. We will not rest until we accomplish this.”

Sunday’s protest took a different turn. Protesters met up at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and then drove to the Hardin Valley subdivision where they believed DA Allen lived.

On the drive across town, the caravan only used one of the two westbound lanes of Middlebrook Pike and, at least according to event organizers, was no more disruptive than a funeral procession. 

The protesters, however, angered many West Knoxville residents. Some of them took to the discussion thread of the popular Facebook group Knoxville Crime of East Tennessee to vent their anger. By 11 p.m. Sunday more than 600 comments had been posted including threats to run over or shoot protesters as well as racial slurs such as the “n” word. “Black lives splatter,” one Facebook user posted.

Only one member of Knoxville City Council could be reached for comment late Sunday.

“I support the community’s right to protest not only in opposition to government action or inaction but also as a community-building act,” said Amelia Parker in an e-mail statement sent to Hard Knox Wire. “I have witnessed many beautiful moments during the protests, when young people have taken the lead in the march and used their voices to lead chants and direct traffic. Black youth riding electric scooters through the streets of Knoxville, taking ownership of their city.” 

Parker continued, “It has truly been beautiful to witness. I’ve seen folks young and old full of anger have a safe outlet for expressing that anger and miles of marching in which to work through pent up emotions. At the marches, I’ve also seen friends and family members of loved ones lost to gun violence who are calling for justice in those unresolved cases.”

Protesters stand in front of a West Knox County house Sunday. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

She concluded: “In many ways, the demands of the protestors transcend any individual case and represent the outrage of so many of us who are tired of seeing black people disproportionately represented among those killed by guns, especially when it is our youth and especially when it is preventable. We must come together in this moment as a city and be open to re-envisioning public safety so that we can prevent a 17 year-old from feeling they need a gun to protect themselves; and so we can stop putting police in situations that are not life and death situations until the police arrive.”

Another protest is scheduled for 5 p.m. today at the County Commission meeting at the City-County Building. 

Protesters disrupted last week’s County Commission work session and seven of them were arrested including Constance Every, a local activist who is also organizing today’s demonstration.

Those who were arrested last week were told they were no longer welcome at the City-County Building, possibly setting them up for more severe criminal charges if they trespass by entering the structure again.

Protesters in a car during Saturday’s procession. Photo by Jennifer Stambaugh.

Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com. 

Published on April 26, 2021