Opinion by Ali Pensky of Knoxville, TN
I am not a detective or a lawyer, but as a human being, I watched the video of seventeen-year-old Anthony Thompson Junior being shot and killed in his high school’s bathroom, and I have questions. As the officers approached Anthony, he begged, “WAIT” six times. By the time he could muster up another “WAIT” the officer had already shot him to the ground, and then, proceeded to handcuff him.
As I watched the comment section of WBIR’s Facebook Live, many people wrote something like, “What did you expect? He brought a gun to school.” And then I thought of sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant who was killed by the police, and how people claim the shooting was justified because she had a knife and was in a fight.
Too many police have proven to America that they will not do anything to deescalate a tough situation besides shooting their guns at children, so why are we still funding them at the rate we do?
It seems obvious that more money should be given to social services that will help with issues such as addiction, homelessness, and mental health. It seems obvious that police across the country need sufficient bias training. So why is the idea of defunding the police so threatening to so many white people? It is because this country only actually polices some people, and those who are not controlled, and in fact benefit from the current system of policing, want the system to stay the way it is. I am a white girl from an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Knoxville who went to a private high school. If a kid I knew was accused of hitting his girlfriend, he would probably get his friends’ dad who is a lawyer to make it go away. He would not get shot in the bathroom of his school, like Anthony Thompson junior. That is white privilege. That is why the killing of Anthony Thompson junior is absolutely not justifiable.
The question of why the DA spent an hour going over tapes of Anthony’s girlfriend accusing him of abuse, is part of a larger issue. While an accusation of domestic abuse is serious, it has nothing to do with Anthony being shot to death by a police officer in his own school’s bathroom. The question of why Anthony was portrayed as a school shooter and portrayed as having shot the officer when both accusations are false is part of a larger issue. The picture that was painted of Anthony before the bodycam footage of the shooting was even released is disturbing and manipulative. It puts systemic racism on display.
I have no doubt that the officers in that bathroom felt they were in danger, but in what universe does the officer deserve more sympathy than the dead seventeen-year-old? We need to dismantle that universe because it appears to have become our reality.
I will never fully understand what it means to be a part of the Austin East community. But I stand with them and I believe the death of Anthony Thompson Junior was avoidable. I do not have answers on how to dismantle this broken system or make Knoxville safe for everyone, but if you are privileged enough to do so like myself, donate to the Austin East Foundation, which aims to help AE receive the same educational opportunities as other Knox County students. Purchase something on the AE’s staff wish list on Amazon. Support one of the local restaurants that are donating their proceeds to AE, such as Hard Knox Pizza or Likewise Coffee. Go to a protest led by Constance Every. Take a stance.