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Beck Cultural Exchange Center, public officials discuss ‘racial justice’ during virtual town hall

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center held a town hall Friday afternoon featuring prominent Knoxville community leaders.
Beck Cultural Exchange holds town hall with public officials
Beck Cultural Exchange holds town hall with public officials(WVLT News)
Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2020 at 6:47 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Beck Cultural Exchange Center held a town hall Friday afternoon featuring prominent Knoxville public officials.

The discussion for the virtual town hall centered around racial justice and included panel leaders Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler, Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas, Knox County Schools Police Chief Gus Paidousis, Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Director David Raush and Knoxville native Decatur Police Chief Nathaniel Allen.

The Town Hall meeting was scheduled from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.

The discussion was opened with a CBS News clip of coverage of the decision of charges in the Breonna Taylor case. Following the video, the town hall moderator, Reverend Renee Kesler asked the group what racial justice looks like to them and if they felt that Breonna Taylor received racial justice.

“We have never been further away from being color blind. There is no substitute for treating people the right way...as leaders we have to make sure we are setting the greatest example,” said Chief Gus Paidousis."

“I would like to trust the decisions they made in Louisville and while that is a terrible tragedy that happened there is still a lot of facts that we don’t have, so I wouldn’t rush to judgement," said TBI Director David Rausch.

“I believe in treating everyone fairly and kind and we have lost our kindness,” said Chief Nate Allen.

Allen continued to say the system is broken and he believes the biggest issue with the country is a distrust in the system which trickles down to law enforcement.

The panelists were asked a series of questions pertaining to racism and racial justice throughout the two-hour town hall. One tough question was whether each person thought Knoxville had an issue policing Black and brown community members.

While some said no, Chief Allen, who is a former KPD employee disagreed, “We do have a problem (with policing Black and brown communities), but these town halls and these types of conversations are the first step in healing".

Mayor Kincannon agreed with Allen saying " The City of Knoxville and KPD has good intentions, but we have mixed outcomes".

Another topic for discussion was around how to dismantle the “school to prison pipeline" in inner city schools.

All of the panelists agreed that the first step is creating an environment for those students to feel comfortable and providing adults to guide those students. Both Mayor Kincannon and Mayor Jacobs agreed that Knoxville needed more minority teachers.

“If you expect to excel in any profession, there needs to be diversity,” Sheriff Tom Spangler added.

The final question for the group and possibly the most difficult question of the evening was whether each speaker was racist. Most panel members agreed that they have their own set of biases, but in order to combat those they must continue to educate themselves and have conversations like this one.

“I’d like to think I’m not (racist), but If I listen to my head, I think I am at times,” said KPD Chief Thomas. Mayor Kincannon agreed saying the only way to fight racism is to fight those biases.

Town Hall moderator Rev. Kesler challenged the group to reconvene in a year and present how they have made a difference since the discussion.

You can watch the full meeting here.

Copyright 2020 WVLT. All rights reserved.

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