KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Police Chief Eve Thomas declined to comment Wednesday about a Knox News investigation detailing concerns by police officers about racism in the department.
Like a 2019 internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct spurred by Knox News reporting, this recent investigation revealed command staff had again dissuaded an officer from filing a report to internal affairs for fear the complaint would go public.
Six current and former cops say the police department tolerates a culture of racism, and some commanders even abet it.
Multiple officers told Knox News a report about insulting and racist language directed by a white cop to a Black cop illustrates the department’s long-standing failure to address a racist culture.
Specifically, officers said the following:
- being racist is not a deal-breaker in the department
- the department has a poor record of hiring and promoting Black officers and a general lack of diversity
- generally speaking, the lack of diversity in command staff is a problem
- Black officers don’t feel comfortable speaking out about issues, and are afraid complaints will fall on deaf ears or result in retribution
Knox News first tried to reach city and police spokespeople by phone around 10 a.m. Wednesday. After neither call was answered, a Knox News reporter emailed at 10:05 a.m. a 335-word summary of the article and a request to interview both Kincannon and Thomas.
Knox News does not share summaries of its reporting with anyone, particularly the subjects of an investigative report, but did so in this case because:
- The nature of the reporting meant Knox News could not contact police or the city until the end of the process
- Fairness dictated that both city and police leaders had a chance to respond to the charges leveled against the department.
“The investigation by internal affairs had gone on 363 days by the time we asked for comment, so we felt we weren’t asking anyone to comment on a complex topic they were unfamiliar with,” said Joel Christopher, Knox News executive editor.
“Additionally, both the mayor and police chief promised accountability in the department’s operations after the 2019 sexual harassment and misconduct complaints Knox News uncovered, and we assume that means staying on top of major misconduct investigations as they arise.”
In an email sent to Knox News at 1:19 p.m., a city spokesperson said neither Kincannon nor Thomas were available Wednesday and asked the newsroom to hold publication of the report until at least Monday, when both could be interviewed.
The spokesperson said the report would be “incomplete” without their comments and it would be unfair to the two leaders and Knox News readers.
When it became clear in the afternoon Wednesday no interviews would take place, Knox News committed to publishing the report while also agreeing to interview Kincannon and Thomas next week.