The Rev. Calvin Skinner has given hundreds of sermons, but he says this past Sunday’s felt more urgent than ever.
“The city of Knoxville has hit its boiling point,” he told CNN. “The case of Anthony Thompson Jr. really solidifies this feeling that enough is enough.”
Thompson, 17, was fatally shot by police when officers said they tried to disarm him inside a bathroom at Austin-East Magnet High School on April 12. He was the fifth Black student from that school to die due to gun violence this year.
Four other students were victims of separate shooting incidents.
“To know that in what should be one of the safest places that a kid should be, that their life can be taken at the hands of law enforcement. That’s traumatizing,” Skinner said of Thompson’s death.
“It’s not that these students, these young people don’t care about dying. It’s that we are not offering them real ways of thriving in life. And if this doesn’t wake us up, I don’t know what will.”
With his voice shaking and eyes welling with tears, Skinner’s voice pierces through the nearly empty Mt. Zion Baptist Church, as he speaks to a virtual congregation watching from home amid the pandemic.
“God wants to use us so we don’t have to see another Anthony Thompson Jr.,” he cried out.
District attorney announces no charges against officers
In a news conference on April 21, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen released police body camera and surveillance footage of the incident and laid out the details of her office’s investigation into Thompson’s death.
Police say Thompson fired his gun first – hitting a trash can in the bathroom. A responding officer returned fire, fatally wounding Thompson, officials said. But some people in the community said they don’t believe that account.
Allen said after reviewing the evidence that no charges would be brought against the responding officers because it was reasonable for the officer who shot Thompson to feel that his and the other officers’ lives were in danger.
Allen said police were initially called to the school after Thompson allegedly had a physical fight with his former girlfriend, who left school early to tell her mom about what she said had occurred.
The former girlfriend’s mother told the Knoxville News Sentinel she now regrets making the police report.
“I never meant for any of this to happen,” Regina Perkins said. “I’m sorry. I hope that we can get justice in this case.”
In a tweet earlier this week, Crump said he’d be reviewing video and reports to try to get answers for the Thompson family.
Protests in Knoxville
The district attorney’s decision has angered many in the Black community and sparked larger protests. Activists in support of the Black Lives Matter movement are calling for an independent federal investigation into Thompson’s death.
On the evening of April 24, dozens of people marched through downtown Knoxville as people watched from behind the windows of restaurants and bars.
When the peaceful crowd got to Market Square, Constance Every, a local activist, got on a loudspeaker to lead a chant: “Say his name: Anthony Thompson Jr.!”
Every is the founder of Black Coffee Justice, a nonprofit organization “committed to fighting injustice in all forms,” according to its website. She and has lived in Knoxville her whole life. She said she’s never before seen a sustained protest movement like the one currently spreading through the city.
Several bystanders expressed frustration and confusion about the protest, which was snarling traffic. At 10 p.m. the protest ended peacefully, with no reported damage or arrests, according to the protest organizers.
Every said she believes many of the community’s problems stem from an overall lack of resources.
“Governments who invest in social services and resources have lower gun violence, lower poverty and crime, and better thriving communities,” she said.
Last December, the city approved a resolution brought forth by Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie to provide funding to boost economic opportunities for the Black community and create a task force that will help develop future policies.
CNN reached out to McKenzie but did not hear back.