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One High School, Five Students Fatally Shot

  • April 23, 2021

“I think that this city is reeling,” said Charme P. Allen, the Knox County district attorney general. “I think that the fact we’ve had five deaths of high school students means that clearly somewhere something is wrong. It’s unacceptable.”

At a recent community talent show, girls performed dances they learned from TikTok in T-shirts that memorialized one classmate. In protests, they sat on the hoods of their friends’ cars, chanting “Black youth matter” and mouthing the lyrics to songs by the rapper Lil Baby, which blared from the speakers.

“They’re angry,” Jacqueline Muhammad, whose daughter Janaria Muhammad, 15, who was the co-captain of the school’s dance team, said of her daughter’s friends and classmates. “They’re hurt. They’re tired. And I hope and pray that no one else has to get hurt.”

Austin-East, an arts magnet school with about 640 students, a majority of whom are Black, has been a reflection of the East Knoxville community’s pride — but also of its struggles. The streets surrounding the school are dotted with overgrown lots and abandoned storefronts, evidence, residents say, of neglect and the entrenched poverty pervading the neighborhood.

The school draws its students mostly from those East Knoxville neighborhoods, and residents describe it as an anchor for the community. Students and parents like to boast about the dance and arts programs.

But they also complain of outdated textbooks and a shortage of counselors. And in a community that has seen an uptick in crime in recent years, Ms. Muhammad said students were acquainted with deadly violence well before the recent fatal shootings.

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