KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – After 12 homicides in the first 47 days of 2021, Knoxville leaders recommitted to curbing the gun violence that recently claimed the lives of two Austin-East Magnet High School students.
Mayor Indya Kincannon, Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, Police Chief Eve Thomas, Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas, Knox County School Board District 1 Rep. Evetty Satterfield and local faith leaders spoke Wednesday, less than two days after a 15-year-old Austin-East student was shot and killed.
“I commit as mayor of this city to keep our community safe and address this uptick in violence,” Kincannon said. “This requires partnership, and I’ve seen a renewed attention and effort to it today.”
The latest shooting came just days after 16-year-old Austin-East student Stanley Freeman Jr. was shot and killed.
Chief Thomas said the department has responded to 12 homicides in the first 47 days of 2021. By contrast, the department responded to three homicides during the same period in 2020.
“We are increasing patrols and intensifying our attention in the area surrounding Austin-East, specifically when school lets out,” Thomas said Wednesday. “We have set up a violent crime reduction team that will focus its efforts entirely where violent crime is most pervasive and on the known offenders that are perpetuating this violence.”
Vice Mayor McKenzie backed the efforts to increase police presence in areas affected by gun violence.
“We need KPD,” she said. “We need them in our community. We need them working with us to get these people off the streets and when we stand up and when we give information, we expect some results. We have to continue to work with them, but we have to stop killing in these streets.”
Watch the full press conference below. *Warning: graphic language
Satterfield, who represents the area of Austin-East on the county school board, appealed to community members to support students and teachers that have been directly affected by the recurring violence.
“I want to speak directly to the students. Austin-East Magnet High School is a safe school. It is a school with teachers that love you, that cherish your lives,” she said. “So lean into your teachers right now and community if you can wrap your arms around our teachers because they are going through it as well.”
Community demonstrators at the conference expressed frustration with historical inaction from law enforcement and city leaders. Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas reiterated a similar sentiment.
“It’s time for the talk to be over. Its time for action,” Thomas said. “We’re going to make a change. You deserve better. Our kids deserve better. This is totally unacceptable. Please, please, let’s all come together. Let’s work together and let’s make a difference for our kids. Let’s make a difference for our community. Knoxville is better than this.”
The city will hold a community meeting Friday night to speak with residents at the Change Center, located at 203 Harriet Tubman St. The meeting is open to the public and will begin 6 p.m.
Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler echoed city leaders. In a statement sent Wednesday afternoon. Spangler said the Sheriff’s Office is “working diligently to find those responsible and bring them to justice.”
“In order to end violent crime, we must all come together, we must work with each other, civilians and law enforcement, to prove we will not stand for violence in our communities,” he said.
“In my 40 years of law enforcement I have always believed when tragedy strikes, it’s the time to unite and offer help. It is not the time to criticize and place blame.
“I also want to send our sincere condolences and heartfelt prayers to the families of those who have lost loved ones. I’ve always pledged my support for victims and their families, I will continue to do so.”
Spangler reminded that anyone can remain anonymous when providing information about any crime. Contact the Knox County Sheriff’s Office at 865-215-2243. You can contact the Knoxville Police Department by phone at 865-215-7000.