Militant Journalism

Black student, 17, killed by cops in Knoxville, Tenn; community demands justice

On April 12, Knoxville police killed Anthony Thompson Jr., a 17-year-old Black student, while inside a bathroom at his high school, Austin-East Magnet High. This has prompted grief and outrage from the local community. The police originally claimed that Thompson had shot at them, but video evidence released after community pressure shows otherwise.

Initially, Knox County District Attorney General, Charme Allen, refused to release body-camera footage of the incident. For nine days, mass protests organized by Black Lives Matter activists demanded the release of the tapes so the community can learn the truth. Under pressure, on April 22 at a press conference, the body-cam footage was released.

At the press conference, the D.A. announced that none of the four officers who were involved, including Officer Jonathon Clabough, who shot and killed Thompson, would be charged. This outrageous immunity for killer cops has resulted in daily mass protests in the streets of Knoxville — and are still ongoing. 

A changing official story

Initial media reports of the incident inaccurately claimed that police were responding to a shooter on the campus of Austin-East Magnet High School. But there was no such incident. Until police confronted him in the restroom, nobody was aware of Thompson having a gun on him. Thompson never fired the gun. Police were only there to respond to separate domestic violence allegations from Thompson’s ex-girlfriend’s mother.

The Knoxville PD also claimed Thompson fired at the police first, wounding one of them in the thigh, and they were forced to defend themselves. Initial media headlines read, “Active shooter in high school; officer down.” However, video evidence is said to show Thompson’s gun misfiring in his pocket rather than intentionally firing at the officer. In fact, the wound in the officer’s thigh came from another officer’s firearm. 

Demands for the release of the body-cam footage of the incident grew from skepticism fully vindicated not only by the official story falling apart but also by the history of policing in the United States itself. Police departments have a long history of lying about their Black victims being violent aggressors whom they were forced to defend against, while at the same time covering up any evidence that proves the contrary. 

DA attempts to spin contents of tapes

On April 22, DA Allen gave a press conference where she played all four of the body-cam tapes. In the tapes, four officers arrived on campus. They entered the men’s restroom where Thompson and his best friend were. They immediately escalated the situation. They began physically pulling Thompson out of his stall. 

The police then began struggling with Thompson as he cried out, “Wait, wait, wait!” At some point, Thompson’s gun seems to have misfired. Clabough then shot Thompson in the chest, and then fired again, hitting Officer Adam Willson in the thigh. After that, Officer Stanley Cash sat on top of Thompson as he lay bleeding on the floor. Clabough subdued Thompson’s best friend as he begged them to get medical attention for Thompson. Thompson was soon pronounced dead on the scene. 

Allen concluded that the police’s killing of Thompson was justified, and she not surprisingly declined to charge any of them. During the press conference, she made excuses for the officers, focused heavily on the allegations of domestic abuse against Thompson to demonize his character, and glossed over many important details.

Movement demands justice for Anthony Thompson Jr.

Liberation photo

Hundreds of protesters have marched daily against this unjust decision by the DA. They are demanding charges against the officers involved and reforms to the criminal justice system in Knoxville. 

One of the lead organizers of the protests, Constance Every, told Liberation News that Allen’s history demonstrates that Allen always lies and engages in cover-ups to protect the police from accountability. 

“Charme Allen — the District Attorney — has a history of doing police cover-ups,” Every said. She cited Allen’s refusal to release evidence for police killings of victims like Channara “Philly” Pheap, and her cover-ups of instances of Knoxville Sheriff deputies drunk driving, wrecking vehicles, and getting into bar fights, as examples. 

“[She] cannot be trusted in anything she says or does, because she has a history of lying to the public.” 

Regina Perkins, the mother of Thompson’s girlfriend, voiced support for the movement, saying she regretted reporting Thompson to the police. 

“He was a good kid, he had dreams and goals, but he had some struggles,” Perkins said. “I am so sorry, and I never meant for anything to happen to him. We are mourning, my daughter is grieving the loss of her first love and we also want answers and justice in this case.”

David Alex Hayes, another lead organizer for the protests, told Liberation News that history helps him understand that popular movements are necessary to achieve transformative change — the kind of change needed to end police terror. 

“Massive changes don’t happen unless a lot of people are mobilized and organized and take action,” Hayes said. “Ultimately, we need revolutionary change in this country, and that doesn’t happen without a lot of people taking action and fighting for it.”

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