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Knox County’s libertarian pro-wrestling mayor fights to keep police in schools

‘Glenn Jacobs can lull you into believing he’s a slow-moving, slow-thinking jock. Then he strikes like a rattler,’ says local observer

An officer-involved shooting at a Knoxville, Tennessee school in April started a political tug-of-war over keeping some Knoxville police officers in schools.

Pulling at one end of the political rope was Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, who suspended the agreement between the Knoxville school district and the Knoxville police department.

At the other end of the rope was Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, the professional wrestler whose stage name is Kane, who was adamant about keeping the cops there.

This was unexpected to some observers because Jacobs is likely the most prominent avowed libertarian politician in Tennessee.

Multiple shootings

The shooting that occurred on April 12, at Austin-East Magnet Highschool in Knoxville, did not happen in a vacuum.

The violence began on January 27 of this year when Justin Taylor, a student who attended Austin-East was shot and killed.

In the months to come, a series of shootings of Austin-East students occurred.

Although all of those incidents transpired outside of the high school and were mostly caused by fellow peers, the deaths sparked outrage, protests, calls for gun control, and the general urgency to do something.

Things took a turn for the worse when student Anthony Thompson Jr. was shot and killed by an officer on the Austin-East campus after his girlfriend had alleged domestic violence, Knox News reported.

Officer Jonathan Clabough and two other officers responded to a call stating that Thompson was armed in a bathroom. As they went to arrest him in that bathroom, Thompson’s gun went off.

Clabough fired to defend himself and his fellow officers, according to the Knox News timeline and the body cam footage.

Fellow officer Adam Willson was wounded by that friendly fire.

Thompson was was pronounced dead on the scene, after the school nurse tried to administer CPR.

Knoxville PD comes under fire

Although District Attorney General Charme Allen determined that Officer Clabough reacted in self-defense and declined to press charges, many protesters, who were already worked up over the previous shootings, called for police reforms in the public schools of Knoxville.

Knoxville Mayor Kincannon reacted to these protests by withdrawing from the Memorandum of Agreement between the Board of Education and the Police Department, WATE News reported.

This effectively pulled all police officers from public schools starting June 12, the last day of school.

After Kincannon officially withdrew from the Memorandum, she created some wiggle room in a press conference.

“We are not pulling out of Knox County schools. Instead we are saying that it’s just time to revisit the Memorandum of Agreement and to update it in light of changed circumstances,” she said.

The Board of Education for Knoxville County was tasked with revising the Memorandum. The Board, following Mayor Kincannon’s instructions, wanted an open forum where the public and police department could share their concerns and reach an agreement to put police back in public schools.

After ongoing meetings about how to facilitate a discussion between the people and the police department, the Board voted to hire a third party to mediate.

When Knox County Mayor Jacobs heard the board’s decision, he sent a strongly-worded letter expressing his concern.

In that letter, Mayor Jacobs stated, “I strongly oppose using taxpayer dollars to pay an outside consulting firm to tell the district what every parent in Knox County already knows: armed law enforcement officers are a necessity in schools.”

Mayor Jacobs made his view clear on police in public schools, stating, “I simply cannot ignore that physical security is absolutely critical in keeping our students safe at school. I am deeply disturbed that any governmental body would even consider removing law enforcement from any of our schools.”

The Board changes course

Susan Horn, Chair of the Board of Education, read the letter and decided to hold a meeting to revisit the topic of hiring a third party. The board met and once again went over the pros and cons of a mediator.

Those in favor argued it would provide greater transparency between the board members and their constituents. The public wanted to be directly involved with the decision instead of being represented by the board member of their district.

Those against agreed with Mayor Jacobs. A mediator was unnecessary because the board could create its own a forum where the voices of the police department and public could be heard without hiring a mediator to do that.

Although there were diverging views on hiring a mediator, a majority of board members supported putting police back in public schools.

Vice Chair of the Board of Education Virginia Babb expressed this at the Board of Education meeting saying, “I have never thought like this process was trying to get them [police officers] out of the schools.”

The board sided with Jacobs over Kincannon and voted on June 9 against hiring a facilitator.

Is Kincannon bending?

Now another way of reestablishing an agreement must be found before the next school year, or police will not be stationed in Knoxville schools.

That doesn’t mean the schools will have no security officers.

There are about 15 police officers stationed in Knoxville schools and more in schools outside the city, according to multiple press reports.

In contrast, there are almost 100 security officers in Knoxville schools.

On the other hand, even that much is tenuous, because the security officers are technically sworn police officers with the limited jurisdiction of school campuses.

Mayor Kincannon is currently having talks with Knoxville police about how to put things back together. One such talk was scheduled to happen on June 15.

She likely telegraphed her willingness to work with police by reposting an item from the Knoxville PD Twitter account from the previous day, of Chris Medina, an officer on the Community Engagement Response Team, which is “a new initiative launched to address violent crime and directly engage with the community.”

Sandra Clark is editor of the website Knox TN Today. In an opinion column that handicapped how both mayors are doing, she wrote that “Glenn Jacobs can lull you into believing he’s a slow-moving, slow-thinking jock. Then he strikes like a rattler.”

Clark argued that the two mayors are “perfect foil[s]” and that Kincannon was playing “the Hillary to his Donald.”

In politics, “you’re either winning or losing,” Clark wrote, and at the moment, partly on the strength of this issue, “Jacobs is up, up, up.”

The College Fix made several attempts to reach Mayors Jacobs and Kincannon for comment. Neither responded.

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Gigi De La Torre is a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville studying English with a concentration in writing and a minor in political science. She is a member of the Center for Leadership as well as the Great Books Honors Program. She is a member of the women’s soccer team.