An East Knox Resident’s Thoughts

This has been a rough week for East Knoxville. Last Friday a young man from our high school was shot and killed while he was leaving the school in his car. Then on Tues, another young woman from our high school was found shot in the street and also died. (And this comes after another child was shot two weeks before). Our school and the middle school have been moved to virtual all week as everyone tries to get a handle on the situation. 

I’ve not had a great week. I’ve been depressed and frozen and functioning at low capacity. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why. I did not know these children personally, and they were not friends with my kids. But, they attended the same school. They are children who died senselessly. All of our high school community is mourning. All of these are enough reasons to be struggling. (And we offer our prayers and condolences for the families who lost their children.) On top of all of that pain though, what is causing even more stress for me, and I imagine a lot more parents in our community, is wondering how we move forward. 

A good percentage of our highschool kids walk to school. We live only half a mile away from the highschool and we have had kids walking to school every day for the past six and a half years. Should I let my child walk to school anymore? But then, I remember that the young man who was shot, was DRIVING A CAR as he left the school. So, now what do we do? 

I listened to the community press conference that was given on Wednesday. I heard a lot of people saying This has got to stop! We are going to stop this now! But I didn’t hear a lot of concrete plans on how they are going to stop it. 

Our principal has told us that they will be emailing a bunch of information on how we are going to move forward, but I am still waiting to get that email. 

In all these press conferences, I have also heard a lot of people say, We’ve got to come together as a community and make this stop! What does that mean exactly? I’ve been scratching my head wondering how I, a property owner and sixteen year resident in this neighborhood, am supposed to make the criminals go away. I wasn’t aware that I, as a private citizen, really had any authority to deal with criminals. I do my part. If I see something that is very obviously wrong/dangerous, I call it into the police. But that’s about all I can do. 

Trouble comes with people. We have lived here sixteen years, and I can always tell when a new group has moved in that is causing trouble. We have an increase of traffic, an increase in gunshots, an increase in police calls. And then, maybe something horrible happens, like the time there was a shooting in the apartment two houses down from us. After that, they all moved away and it got quiet and peaceful again. If we, as the neighbors, are aware of increased suspicious activity in our street, surely the police are aware as well. Especially since they get called often to come respond to whatever craziness is going on. This is not a criticism of the police, just pointing out that the police are probably just as aware as we are when these groups move in. So what exactly are we, as a community, supposed to be doing to combat this lawlessness? 

Monday morning is coming soon and I am still unsure what to do about getting my daughter to and from school. Walk her there myself? Drive her there? Let her continue as normal? Getting her home in the afternoon is even more difficult because I am already picking up other children from a different school, and our high school is not designed for an easy flow of traffic after school. In fact, I always avoid the school when kids are being let out because it’s a huge snarl of traffic, buses, and walking kids.

They have mentioned an increased police presence when kids are going to and from school. I hope that they follow through on this. I, personally, want to see police cars on each street my daughter has to walk on. I don’t know if that is possible or not. But it seems to me that our kids deserve some drastic measures on the part of the adults in charge to make sure they can walk to and from school every day without being killed. And while this whole community wants to see our kids safe, we need some concrete steps and measures, not just blanket statements of how we need to DO SOMETHING. 

Knoxville Police Department’s answers to my questions…

After my last blog post, I decided it would be good to just reach out to our local police department to get some information. I contacted them on their Facebook page and this is what I wrote:

 

Hi, my name is Esther Heneise. I live in East Knoxville, off of Magnolia. My children attend Sarah Moore Greene, Vine, and Austin East. Right now, as our country is going through the present turmoil over George Floyd’s murder, the attention has turned to the Police Force. I know that you are very busy, but I think it would be very helpful for me and the general public if you put out an official statement describing how our police force trains against excessive use of force, profiling, racism, and exactly what actions are taken if a police officer is caught doing these things. Also, are there any steps that people can take to seek justice if they feel that they have been treated unfairly by a police officer? My daughter wants to be a police officer, but she has not shared this dream at Austin East where she goes to school, because none of her friends would support her. There is definitely a culture at the high school level of police being the enemy. I am curious whether there are any programs in place to try and combat these bad public relations? if you have any time to answer these questions I would appreciate it. I am thankful for all that you do in our city and in my neighborhood. Sincerely, Esther Heneise

This was their response:

Hello Esther. Thank you for reaching out with your concerns.

Knoxville Police Department officers are trained extensively in human relations, cultural diversity, ethics in policing and de-escalation tactics, both during the Recruit Academy and throughout their careers.

 

During the Recruit Academy, trainees receive nearly 60 hours of training devoted exclusively to those topics, but that serves merely as a foundation that officers will continue to build on through their experiences in the field and continued training. That training is provided through daily squad roll call briefings, which can be formally administered through the Field Training Officer Program or initiated by the squad supervisors.  Additionally, all officers are required to complete yearly in-service training to maintain POST certification. 

 

We want to assure you that the Knoxville Police Department has the policies, procedures and training in place to address any issues and ensure that we deliver the best possible service for the community. Both the police department and training academy are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and are continuously evaluated to ensure compliance with industry-tested standards.

 

Per policy, Knoxville Police Department officers are directed to only use the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively bring an incident under control, and should only use force when no reasonable effective alternative appears to exist. The policy, of course, acknowledges that each encounter is unique and that numerous factors figure into the decision making of the officer in that circumstance. However, the preferred outcome of an encounter with a non-compliant subject is that the presence of an officer or de-escalation techniques are successful in obtaining compliance. 

 

With that, there are safeguards in place to ensure that officers are using force appropriately and treating all citizens with the respect and decency that they deserve from those tasked with protecting and serving the community.

 

Citizen complaints can be submitted either directly to the Internal Affairs Unit or separately to the Police Advisory & Review Committee. In either instance, those complaints are taken seriously, investigations are conducted if proven necessary and officers are held accountable for their actions. 

 

Use of force reports are submitted following all circumstances in which the subject sustains an injury, the subject complains of injury, medical attention is required or requested, or more physical means that result in an impact are utilized. All use of force reports are reviewed by an officer’s immediate supervisors, the District Commander and the Internal Affairs Unit, who conducts any follow-up investigations if it is deemed necessary. 

 

We feel that the evidence suggests that our efforts are working to bring every encounter to the most peaceful conclusion possible. In 2019, despite seeing an increase of 20,000 calls for service, we saw an over 28 percent decrease in use of force reports. 

 

The Department also utilizes its Early Warning System to monitor officers. That system exists to identify officers who generate numerous use of force reports and complaints of misconduct or are the recipient of numerous disciplinary actions. For those identified by the Early Warning System, the KPD evaluates their behavior, addresses it directly, and determines the appropriate action to take, which can include reassignment and termination if that behavior is not corrected. 

 

The Internal Affairs Unit is also responsible for putting together quarterly biased-based policing reports to ensure that no officer in the Department is involved in bias-based profiling and that all officers are acting within policy. If any issues are identified, the Internal Affairs Unit makes recommendations for training directives or policy changes. 

 

All of our efforts and training are based around de-escalation and cultural competency. Those things are intricately interwoven into everything we do, teach and expect of our officers. Though they often enter into tense and unpredictable situations, officers do not want to have to use force to bring an incident under control. We want to understand and connect with every citizen we encounter, and provide the service that the community expects and desires. We strive to treat every individual with the utmost respect, decency and dignity.

END TEXT

I am thankful that they took the time to answer my questions. Thinking ahead, as to how this information might be helpful…Perhaps, having a general education campaign that lets the public know what their rights are as far as their interactions with the police, and also making it very clear, and user friendly, how the general public can file a complaint. Perhaps even having a liaison, or go between, who could help someone file a complaint when they have been the victim of profiling or have been made to feel in danger by the police. Maybe these are things that would help black people in our community feel that they have a voice and a safeguard against wrongful behavior? What do you all think?

 

Thoughts on George Floyd

As I’ve scrolled through FaceBook the last couple days, I see everyone posting about the murder of George Floyd. I’ve seen a lot of different posts. Angry, Black Lives Matter, kind of posts. Sarcastic Memes saying that conservatives are a lot more worried about themselves than about this Man’s Death. Posts that wonder if there is a conspiracy afoot, perhaps this was done intentionally to stir up a riot. There have been several very good posts from Black Men who have introduced themselves, humanized themselves for the general public, in an attempt to take away the scary stereotype of “Dangerous Black Man”. I have seen mothers of black boys lamenting and praying over their son’s futures. I have seen a lot of people dismissing their need to be involved in any way because of the riots that have come afterwards, thus proving that this is not a cause they want to support. I have seen people turn this into a sermon illustration, this is proof that we all need Jesus. And I’ve also seen a couple very helpful posts that give a list of things that white people can do to fight against racism. 

 

I find myself asking the questions, what can I do? Have I done enough? Am I doing enough? What would I do if I had been an observer on the sidewalk, seeing this happen before my eyes? 

 

And I keep thinking about my teenage daughter. She has lived in an inner city, primarily black neighborhood, all her life. She has been attending inner city schools for four years. All of her friends at school are black. And this daughter of mine has a secret dream of being a police officer. She wants to work her way up to Detective. She has a plan of how she’s going to achieve her goals. She’s excited about it. And she told me that she has never shared this with anyone at school. She wouldn’t dare tell anyone at school. She tells them she’s interested in forensic science. And she confided to me that she didn’t think she would be able to work in our city. It just wouldn’t go over well with the people she knew. 

 

When I lived in Alaska, I had several friends who were in Law Enforcement. I know a couple down here as well. They are all people that I would trust my life to. I am pleased that my daughter has this dream. And I’m worried. 

 

I think about the video of George Floyd. Why didn’t any of the other officers interfere? Why didn’t they say something? Why didn’t they take any action? According to another post I saw, kneeling on his neck was not a police procedure. And according to yet another post, this guy has a long history of abusing his position as a police officer. Surely the other officers knew his character? Knew what kind of person he was? Is there some kind of protocol that was keeping them from interfering? 

 

What kind of system is this that one person can be doing evil in front of their peers, and no one takes action? 

 

I know that a lot of people dislike Black Lives Matter because they feel that it is anti-police. Or they feel that any criticism of our current police force will end up in having our police force nationalized instead of it being a local thing. 

 

I personally think that our police forces should be local. I am also Pro-police. I live in a neighborhood that deals with a lot of crime and violence. I depend on being able to call the police for help. But I don’t think it’s Anti-Police to be calling for reform, to be calling for some drastic changes that would make this type of violence impossible. It’s personal. One day my daughter might be one of those policemen. I want to know that she is entering a force of men and women who are accountable for their actions, who are taking great pains to be fair and equitable. 

 

I personally don’t know any bad stories about our local police. But, I do know that the culture at my children’s school is such that my daughter would never share her dream of being a police officer. I don’t know the stories, the history, the personal experiences that have led these children into believing that the police are their enemy. But the stories, the history, the personal experiences…they exist. We are reading about one of those stories right now. 

 

Racism exists. Police violence exists. George Floyd should not have been killed. We should all be outraged. 

 

Let’s focus that outrage into something tangible. I know, for myself, I know next to nothing about my local police force. I am very curious what rules and regulations they already have in place to combat racism and police brutality. I am sure they have something in place. I wonder how effective it has been? I wonder what their track record is? 

 

I imagine that with a couple well placed emails and phone calls, I could probably get those questions answered. I think I could probably even ask the question, what is the police force doing to start making positive connections with the young people in our neighborhood? Maybe they already have a plan that they are working on, that I just haven’t heard about. Maybe they have programs that need volunteers. Maybe they are aware of some weak places that need changes, maybe I can advocate in the proper places for those changes to happen. 

 

Let’s do something tangible. Don’t just blow up FaceBook with your grief and anger, turn this tragedy into something good. George Floyd was killed. And that motivated me to get involved in my community and start advocating for changes. And that is how we turn this senseless tragic death into something that will go forward. And this is how we honor George Floyd.