‘It was painful to watch’: Knoxville activist, leader reflect on anniversary of George Floyd’s death

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One year after George Floyd’s life was taken by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, local activists and community leaders are taking a look back at what all has changed, and what hasn’t.

Floyd’s final moments were caught on video, which has been shared and seen across the world.

Constance Every, founder of Black Coffee Justice and Sleeves 4 Need, said she remembers how she saw the video and what went through her mind when she saw it.

“It was painful to watch. It was frustrating, it was angering, it was upsetting. It was a lot of things because again, this is a long-standing history of an issue in America period,” Every said.

As a historian, Rev. Reneé Kesler, President of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, said that watching the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes reminded her of the past she studies.

She said what happened to Floyd and when was eerily similar to what was going on in 1919.

“In 1919, and they call that the Red Summer. It was the time in our country when we had racial injustices all over. Lynching’s of black people all over the country, and Knoxville became one of the Red Summer cities,” Kesler said.

She said they called it the Red Summer because what was happening was brutal.

While the lynchings were taking place in 1919, so was the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Kesler said what happened to Floyd was a repeat of history, and the only difference was how the entire world was able to see his death unfold.

She said it’s nothing new that the death was very public, because she said back in 1919 lynchings of black people were often a community event.

“I think that we’re going to rewrite history the same way we wrote it the first time. There was a public lynching and it was injust,” Kesler said.

After Floyd’s death, protests all over the country and world broke out, including several in East Tennessee.

Protestors demanded change in policing and demanded that the country accepted black lives matter.

“The world is watching this video, and the question of concern is obviously going to be, ‘what is justice going to look like moving forward after we have all seen George Floyd get murdered on a live feed across our entire country,'” Every said.

Every said Chauvin being held accountable for his actions was partial justice.

“Justice is that Derek Chauvin, who is an ex-police officer, was held accountable for his actions in the murder of George Floyd. But we still have not gotten justice with police immunity not being presented or passed in this country,” Every said.

She said full justice would be passing all the police reform and anti-brutality laws that have come out since Floyd’s death, such as the George Floyd Act, Breonna’s Law (in honor of Breonna Taylor), the I Can’t Breathe Act and Cariol’s Law (named after Cariol Holloman-Horne).

Every said justice would also extend to the policing efforts and poverty levels in Knoxville.

“We need to have mental health, and other social service workers, healthcare providers, etc., implemented into our police department. Anthony Thompson Junior was a crisis call. George Floyd was actually a crisis call too,” Every said.

She said police these days are taking a lot of calls they shouldn’t be, because they aren’t experts in those fields, such as mental health.

Every said Knox County needs an integrated dispatch system that brings officers in when they are needed, and other personnel when police aren’t needed.

Another form of justice, Every said, would be reducing the poverty rate amongst the black communities in Knoxville.

According to Welfareinfo.org, the poverty rate of the black community in Knoxville is 41.6%, compared to the 21.5% poverty rate in the white community.

Every said if leaders help reduce the poverty rate, the crime rate will also decrease.

When you invest in social services and resources to address and attack and reduce your poverty rates, you have lower crime rates. Why? Because people are doing well. They don’t have to take from each other. There’s a way for them to get access and accessibility to it, that doesn’t require them to steal, or rob or kill each other for it instead,” Every said.

Kesler said justice for Floyd’s death would be paying attention to history, and all of history, so it doesn’t repeat itself.

She said back in 1919, during the Red Summer, racial climate in Knoxville was so bad that the National Guard had to be called in and riots broke out in downtown.

Kesler said it was all because people were looking to lynch a Black man who reportedly killed a white woman.

“What happens is as they began to look for him and they can’t find him, in the paper, they’re looking to have a lynching in downtown Knoxville,” Kesler said.

She said the hope is that the Beck Center can help share the history, including one day of what happened from Floyd’s death, so history never repeats itself.

Part of that, she said is teaching how to eradicate systemic racism.

“It’s not just about what we teach in school, it’s not just about how police treat black people, it’s not just about what your work environment looks like, it’s about all of those things,” Kesler said.

Both Kesler and Every said there have been steps made in the right direction, but the community and country isn’t 100% there just yet.

“The beautiful peaceful marches that have taken place all over the world, we can see how people can come together on one accord and fight for justice in the way that this country was designed to fight for justice,” Kesler said.

“We are still making continuous strides, to not lose hope, to not give up. The needle every day has been push forward, little by little, and we just need to continue to keep that pressure to push the needle forward so we can see those changes that we need,” Every said.

So, on the anniversary of Floyd’s death, Kelser to move forward and not repeat history, we need to think of Floyd like he was a family member.

“I want you to think about how that would look if you put their face on that ground, in place of George Floyd, because that’s the level of compassion that we have to have for what happened on that day for that life,” Kesler said.

She said we can’t make change if we don’t have compassion.

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