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“We are acting with urgency” | Knoxville leaders address racial allegations against KPD

Knoxville Vice-Mayor Gwen Mckenzie told WVLT News she doesn’t think the department as a whole is racist, but said there are some “disturbing” events.
Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 8:20 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - On Thursday, Knoxville Vice-Mayor Gwen McKenzie told WVLT News’ Gwendolyn Ducre she wanted to see change within the Knoxville Police Department after learning of claims of “racial allegations.”

“At this point, I need Chief Thomas to act in a more aggressive manor in addressing these allegations,” said McKenzie. “This is nothing new. These are things that we’ve heard about over the years.”

McKenzie would not give specifics surrounding the claims, but said she’s had several conversations with officers and is requesting a cultural change.

Later in the day, Mayor Indya Kincannon and Chief Eve Thomas sent separate statements regarding inclusion, racism and culture.

“We are committed to addressing the many tough challenges that we face head on,” Thomas said in a statement. “I am doing that, the Mayor is doing that, and our officers are doing that every day as they work to keep our community safe. We are acting with urgency to confront difficult issues and eliminate any culture issues that threaten to compromise the integrity of the department and public trust.”

In a series of tweets, Kincannon highlighted the work she and her office has done to promote “best practices with KPD,” which includes harassment and diversity training for all KPD employees, updated the Use of Force and Code of Conduct policies and launched a co-response program.

“I have confidence in our Police Department. I have confidence in Chief Thomas and I have confidence in our officers,” Kincannon said in a written statement. “I need and trust Chief Thomas to move KPD forward amidst these challenges that we and communities across the country face. We have to tackle these issues together -- not tear each other down.”

Mckenzie told WVLT News she doesn’t think the department as a whole is racist, but said there are some “disturbing” events.

Most recently, KPD reported an off-duty KPD officer was knocked unconscious by a Black man last month. KPD reported the man accused the officer of repeatedly making racist comments toward the man. According to a police report, the man said the officer commented that he “didn’t know they let Black people in the reception hall.”

No arrests or charges have been filed in relation to the incident.

Earlier this year, a separate officer resigned and another was disciplined after a photo surfaced online showing a child dressed in blackface.

McKenzie did not immediately respond to WVLT News’ request for a response to the chief’s and mayor’s comment.

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