As protests dominated cities across America in the weeks following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in the spring of 2020, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told a group of black community leaders that the city should consider a zero tolerance policy for racism in the police service.
A year later, there is no zero tolerance policy, and a series of Knox News reports show how racism is unchecked in certain segments of the police service.
Now City Councilor Amelia Parker, who participated in the Zoom call in June 2020 with Kincannon and the Knoxville Renaissance black community leadership group, has said she is pushing for the city to develop zero tolerance policies. for racism and sexism by any city employee.
“Racist and sexist practices, behaviors and actions by government officials threaten the health, safety and well-being of the city’s employees and residents and therefore should not be tolerated,” she told Knox News in a press release.
“It is disappointing that the mayor and the chief of police have not adequately responded to the need for a zero tolerance policy through our administrative rules and general bylaws. “
The Zoom call and what followed
The group was nearly 90 minutes away from the call with the mayor when Shora Foundation Founder and CEO Tanika Harper said the Knoxville Police Department needed a zero tolerance policy for racism.
“So that means if there’s any clue that an officer is racist from his Facebook post, from his Instagram, he’s making jokes at work, whatever leads (people to think) that you don’t. ‘Maybe not like blacks and browns, we need a policy for that, ”she said. “And that has to be zero tolerance.
“It doesn’t have to be an article, ‘let’s call each other and have a conversation’,” she continued. “Because we see all over the country, these are the officers who are killing our young, unarmed, murdered blacks.”
Other concerns were also raised, and Kincannon responded to those first before drawing his attention to the suggested zero-tolerance policy.
“About the zero tolerance policy against racism, one of the things I found particularly horrific about what happened in Minneapolis recently was that the officer who was most directly responsible for the murder of Mr. Floyd had something like 19 cases of complaints against him for improper conduct, “she said.” I don’t know all the details, but it’s more than a red flag. So I agree. to say that we have to look at this.
What happened next, according to several participants, was a single follow-up conversation with the group at the end of the summer. Nothing more.
“The conversation kind of ended there,” said Paul Sheard, Chairman of the Board of Knoxville Renaissance.
“Our mayor is showing to me that she is willing to put up with it because nothing has been done,” Harper told Knox News this week.
When Knox News sent city spokeswoman Kristin Farley questions about the mayor’s comments and what had been done regarding a zero-tolerance policy, she highlighted Kincannon’s comments minutes later in the same video.
“I’m not saying how we’re going to do it, but I think it’s too good an opportunity not to seek real reform here in Knoxville before we have other tragedies, major or minor,” Kincannon said in a statement. video of the meeting.
Farley said the comment shows the mayor did not commit to any particular policies from the June meeting and she said there has been a lot of discussion to reimagine what public safety looks like.
“Mayor Kincannon and other city leaders are continually having conversations about ways to improve ourselves – and that includes reviewing the policies and practices of the KPD,” she said. “The Zoom conversation you mentioned below has helped provide additional and valuable perspectives for these discussions.”
When asked specifically if the mayor had considered a zero tolerance policy for racism for the police service and, if so, what the results of those efforts were, Farley listed the current policy of the KPD which requires the department to practice “no-bias policing” and listed code of conduct policies that say racism will not be tolerated.
“Again, I haven’t heard of any place where the mayor has engaged in a certain policy,” she said in an emailed statement, “but rather a discussion and reflection on reform . To reiterate, we are constantly looking for areas where we can improve and continue to reassess policies and procedures. “
However, the policies shared with Knox News are not zero tolerance. They, like other Class A offenses, can result in the termination of an officer. But they can also lead to counseling or further training.
For example, when Officer Todd MacFaun has been sanctioned for dressing a kid in blackface for Halloween last year, he received a written reprimand and ordered additional training on cultural bias.
But supporters of a strict zero-tolerance policy say that means an officer should be required to hand over his badge and weapon. Additional training shouldn’t be an option, they said.
“They take care of it with a very gentle hand and they want sensitivity training, and I just don’t think that’s the way it is,” said Kanika White, a real estate agent and community activist who was part of the Zoom Appeal. . “I don’t think you can train someone against racism and discrimination. And, you know, I actually consider it a slap in the face.
“Because, you know, black lives are on the line, and we don’t have time for people to train and learn not to be racist and discriminate against us. “
What zero tolerance policies mean
The city does not have a zero tolerance policy either, although politicians say discrimination will not be tolerated. Similar to the police department, if an employee is found to have violated policies, the response spans the gamut from training to termination.
Zero tolerance policies are not the norm in Tennessee. Chattanooga, Metro Nashville and Memphis prohibit harassment and discrimination but do not have a zero tolerance policy.
If approved, Parker’s policy proposal would ask the appropriate city departments to study and report to city council on zero tolerance policies for racism and sexism that could eventually become part of the city code.
The mayor’s file
Farley described the changes Kincannon implemented for the KPD, including matching National Police reform measures to the 8 Can’t Wait campaign.
As part of these changes, the service no longer uses lateral vascular cervical retention. Restraint looks like a choke but, if done correctly, it is believed to restrict blood flow, not air flow. It was the only neckband previously allowed by KPD policy.
Separately, the new policies also required officers to report instances where they intentionally point a gun at a person, even if it is not fired. The new policy also included language requiring KPD employees to intervene in situations where an officer is using or is about to use force in violation of the policy.
How we got here
In mid-June, Knox News detailed the experiences of six current and former officers who said the department has long failed to tackle a racist culture.
Specifically, agents told Knox News the following:
- Being racist is not a deciding factor in the department.
- The department has a poor record in hiring and promoting black officers and a general lack of diversity.
- The lack of diversity in command personnel is a problem.
- Black officers do not feel comfortable talking about issues and fear that complaints will fall on deaf ears or lead to retaliation.
This report detailed how an officer, Adam Broome, resigned after another colleague complained during his exit interview about Broome’s racist and unprofessional behavior.
Broome, according to his colleagues, told Officer DionDré Jackson in April 2019 that “he should know he’s on a slave ship” and that the reparations for “all of you” (black Americans) are ” bulls — ”. Broome and the officer who originally complained are white. Jackson is black.
Last week, Knox News reported that police had opened a new investigation racist harassment within the department after an officer filed a complaint that the commanders lied about how they handled it.
Jackson filed a complaint on June 28 saying Lt. Lance Earlywine, Captain Don Jones and Deputy Chief Kenny Miller misled internal investigators who reviewed complaints in 2020 about Broome’s conduct. This investigation is ongoing.
Also last week, Knox News reported Deputy Mayor Gwen McKenzie, who is black and represents the city’s only black majority council district, said she had lost confidence that Police Chief Eve Thomas could eliminate racism in the KPD and lead the department into the future.
In response, Kincannon issued a statement of support for the chef.