Thursday night was the third night in a row citizens took to the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Floyd, an African-American, has his murder follow two other high profile murders of African-Americans this year. In March, Breonna Taylor, an aspiring nurse, was killed in Louisville by police after a botched no-knock warrant where police entered the wrong home. The month of May also saw a video surface on the internet of 25-year-old Ahmad Aubrey being followed and then fatally shot by two white men in Georgia. It took the video of Aubrey’s murder, nearly two months later, before authorities filed murder charges.
With social unrest and racial tensions between some communities and police on the rise, Knox County Sheriff Mike Smith says luckily he hasn’t seen any of that translate to his jurisdiction.
“We don’t really see it like that over here, but now we’re not a big city either,” explained Smith. “We’re a rural area, not as big. Even though a lot of stuff like that is happening, we haven’t seen it.”
Smith who has been a member of law enforcement for 20 years says he thought the death of Floyd was wrong.
“I don’t think that should have happened,” he said.
Smith also doesn’t agree with the way the protest in Minneapolis have transpired.
“Everybody’s got their right to protest,” he said. “But if you’re going to do it the right way, you want to stand on sidewalks with signs and yell and scream. But then if you want to destroy property, and steal from stores, now it’s gotten criminal.”
“I’d think they would be after the officer being like, ‘hey you were wrong. You had your knee in this guy’s neck, and you let him die.’ I think they’d be after him, but like everything you see going on up there right now with all this destruction and stuff, well it’s not solving nothing,” he continued.
Smith said he felt that while some protestors were well within their rights to protest, he felt like it gave some criminals an excuse to loot and vandalize.
According to the 2010 Census, at that time, Knox County had an African-American population of just 1.2%, or 392 residents. While Knox County may have a lower population of minorities compared to Minneapolis, Smith said officers can receive training on engaging with minorities throughout the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) in Richmond.
As Smith explains it, each officer is required to undergo approximately four to five months worth of training at the DOCJT’s academy before they are eligible to become an officer. During that time, officers will be trained on a plethora of topics concerning being a police officer, like engaging with citizens.
Smith also explained that current officers are required to complete a week’s worth (40 hours) of training each year with the DOCJT. Smith says officer in-training usually aligns with each individual department’s needs.
“We do whatever classes would help our department,” he explained. Those potential classes include course to do with different racial interactions and Smith said he thinks more classes like that will become available after recent events.
Because Smith and his deputies are aware of situations like Minneapolis exists, they perform community outreach programs, especially those designed for kids, to help strengthen and grow trust between law enforcement and community members. Each year, Smith and his deputies take part in their Shop with a Deputy event, where officers team up with local children in helping them purchase toys and gifts during the holiday season.
Smith says his office also interacts with local county elementary schools performing various assembly like programs for students.
“We teach them different things they can do in their homes as far as safety in their homes, safety at school like if an active shooter were to come in, things like that,” he explained.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office also has four school resource officers who help protect Knox County’s elementary schools.
“We went through grants, the school board has helped us with grants and stuff, and we got all kinds,” he said.
When asked if he thought protests like the ones in Minneapolis could happen in a town like Barbourville, Smith said he didn’t believe it would ever escalate that far.
“I live in Bell [County], I’m from Bell, but I work here in Knox. The people of Knox County, they wouldn’t put up with that,” he said. “They would even probably join us, to help us in shutting it down. They wouldn’t let them destroy Barbourville. The good people would be stepping in saying, ‘we ain’t letting y'all do this,’” he added.