Black Teen Fatally Shot by Tennessee Police. Initial Reports Says He Shot Officer, Later Says Bullet Did Not Come From Teen's Gun

Illustration for article titled Black Teen Fatally Shot by Tennessee Police. Initial Reports Says He Shot Officer, Later Says Bullet Did Not Come From Teen's Gun
Photo: Bennian (Shutterstock)

Right now is a difficult time for Black America. Last summer, we saw a massive wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation and an equally massive spotlight on systemic racism in policing—we called it a racial awakening.

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Then, in the midst of a nationally televised trial over the Black death that arguably sparked said “racial awakening,” Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo were killed by police and we were all given a reminder that blue America is still the same blue America it was pre-2020.

My point is, we don’t trust cops and, at this point, any situation where a Black person is killed by police—whether the victim was armed or not—is going to at least raise an eyebrow or two, especially if there are any inconsistencies in what law enforcement officials report to the public (like there have been in Adam’s case for example.)

Last Monday, 17-year-old Anthony J. Thompson Jr., a Black student at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville, Tenn., was shot and killed by police officers in a restroom at his school after police responded to a call about a “possibly armed” student, the New York Times reports.

Apparently, Anthony, who was shot twice by police, was armed, but the initial report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation stated that he was killed after he fired his gun at officers—which now appears to be untrue. According to the Times, on Wednesday, the bureau clarified in a statement that the student’s gun went off during a struggle with officers, but “Preliminary examinations indicate the bullet that struck the KPD officer was not fired from the student’s handgun.”

That right there is easily enough to make Black people suspicious of literally everything that comes out of the mouths of officials handling the case—police have earned this degree of distrust.

From the Times:

The injured officer, identified by the Knoxville Police Department as Adam Willson, a school resource officer at the high school and a 20-year veteran of the force, is expected to recover.

“During investigations, agents discover facts that may clarify initial reports,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is why our agency uses terms in our releases such as ‘preliminary,’ ‘possibly,’ and ‘reportedly.’”

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Yeah, but when Black people are being killed largely because we’re stigmatized and stereotyped as aggressive and violent thugs who are perpetually worthy of a cop’s fear—without our own fear ever being considered—a “preliminary,” “possibly” and “reportedly” statement that says the Black teen shot a cop when that’s not what happened is not something one should expect to be taken lightly.

So naturally, the community wants police body-cam footage of the altercation and shooting to be released and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon has urged Charme P. Allen, the district attorney general, to release the footage, but the request was declined due to an ongoing investigation into the incident.

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For what it’s worth, at least three of the four police officers involved in Anthony’s death support releasing the video, according to their attorneys.

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From Knox. News:

The law firm of Donald A. Bosch, which is representing Lt. Stanley Cash and officers Brian Baldwin and Jonathon Clabough, said in a statement released Friday, “In the days following this tragic incident, there has been significant confusion over what occurred.”

“In an effort to accurately inform the public, all three officers fully support the release of all unedited body camera footage related to this incident,” the statement reads. “As Mayor Kincannon has publicly expressed, she, along with these officers, agree that the public interest is best served by the immediate release of these videos.”

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There still hasn’t been much information released to the public regarding the details and circumstances of the shooting, so it’s too early to say whether this is a clear case of injustice, but again, at this point, we don’t owe cops the benefit of the doubt—especially since America so rarely grants us the same.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

DISCUSSION

Do we have all the facts? No.

What do we know? That someone brought a gun into a school after more than 140* mass shootings this year, and was killed when the police responded.

I feel sorry for his family, and for their loss. I can’t feel any outrage that some idiot who brought a gun into a school was killed. I feel some relief knowing that he was the only one that died.

*The FedEx shooting this week was the 147th mass shooting to date this year.