On Thursday, the University of Tennessee School of Law hosted a panel as a part of their Critical Conversations series that focuses on race and social issues. This panel, titled Critical Conversations: Race, Children, and Police in Knox County Schools, comes considering the recent protest over the death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr.
KPD officer Jonathan Clabough fatally shot Anthony Thompson Jr. at Austin-East High School last week. Last night, District Attorney General Charme Allen announced that they would not be filing charges against officer Clabough, prompting protests in downtown Knoxville.
For the panel, over 200 attended. A moment of silence was held at the start for both Anthony Thompson Jr. and his family. The panel was hosted by Professor of Law Wendy Bach as well as a group of students at the School of Law. They moderated the chat and provided questions to the speakers from the audience.
The two speakers were Denise Dean, executive director and project director of East TN Freedom Schools, and Pastor Calvin Skinner. Both spoke on the death of Anthony Thompson Jr and the ongoing racial divides present in the Knoxville Community.
“I’m sitting here, and I’m going … that’s a child,” Denise Dean said about the bodycam footage of Anthony Thompson Jr’s death. “That was a child that was killed.”
She continued, saying, “When I was listening on the call, the mother said ‘there’s a Black boy with a gun and he is dangerous.’ That is a racial narrative.”
Dean further spoke on how there were no attempts at de-escalation from the police and how that is not the practice when the situation involves Black men.
“It wasn’t the bullet that killed Anthony, it was the system…There were no attempts to de-escalate,” Skinner said.
Both Skinner and Dean pointed out the disparity between how police treat armed white men compared to Black men. As they indicated, cases where white shooters have already killed people have been detained without killing them, while cases like Anthony had not shot anyone yet are still killed.
Criticism was also leveled at the media where, early on in the situation, a hero cop narrative had been formed, and the mother of the student witness of the event had no idea where their child was for at least four hours.
During the panel, both speakers fielded questions from attendees that asked about racial narratives and what communities in Knoxville can do to help those affected by the Austin-East shooting. One former alum brought up UT campus culture and how it reinforces violent, white supremacist ideals.
Pastor Skinner also made a point on how communities must come together and hold those in power accountable for their actions. He pointed towards District Attorney General Charme Allen and her office’s position to not pursue charges against officer Clabough.
Skinner stressed the importance of all election cycles, not just presidential, and citizens needed to pay attention.
“Our children need proactive care,” Skinner said. “We are too often reactive … and we haven’t invested in them enough early on.”