Yes, you read that right: Bill Lee and the Good Ol’ Boys are upset. And they’re not going to let a little thing like “Constitutional rights” get in the way them showing Black & Brown people who’s in control…
On Friday June 12th, a group of protesters led by Justin Jones (who devotees may remember from THIS POST from three years ago) assembled outside the Tennessee State Capitol on War Memorial Plaza. Among the things the protesters wanted were the removal of Police Chief Steve Anderson (who has since been removed), defunding the police, demilitarizing the police, and removal of racist statues… But they pledged to leave if Governor Bill Lee would simply talk to them about police brutality. Bill Lee has never shown up to talk to them, and protesters have been there 24 hours a day ever since, making it the longest continuous protest in the country. They called it the People’s Plaza and renamed it “Ida B. Wells Plaza.”
I was down there the next afternoon. During earlier George Floyd protests, a statue was torn down on the plaza. The statue that came down was of a little known man named Edward Carmack. A little history behind Edward Carmack: He was a newspaper editor in Nashville and Memphis during the late 1800s. When some black men in Memphis tried to open a grocery store, they were lynched. Carmack wrote articles defending the lynching. The men who were murdered were friends of journalist and civil rights hero Ida B. Wells, and when she decried the lynching, Carmack turned his pen & his hatred in her direction, telling the mob to “get the black winch.” She was out of town at the time, but they burned down the newspaper she worked in. She never returned to Memphis. Later, Carmack became a politician (of course he did), running as a prohibitionist, and after he was killed by a political rival, the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement saw him as a martyr for their cause, and helped get his statue erected in 1927.
Initially, the protesters set up on the site where the statue was torn down. Saturday morning, they were told they had to move because the base of the statue was to be cleaned. After it was cleaned, police set up barriers to keep the protesters away, and so they moved to a wall near the site, and hung a sign on the wall that said “Ida B. Wells Plaza.” Police prevented anyone from entering the area around the Capitol building, and positioned state troopers to protect the statue of Sam Davis — another confederate soldier and traitor who was hung for espionage during the Civil War. Sam’s family’s plantation had more than 50 slaves. He went to Western Military Institute (which is now Montgomery Bell Academy, and he was dubbed “The Boy Hero of the Confederacy.” He is a hero to racists, and his statue shamefully stands on the grounds of the Tennessee Capitol. Here is a picture I took of the troopers protecting the statue of Sam Davis.
Throughout the protests on the plaza, the people protesting have been peaceful. Any aggression has come from the police. I watched as troopers advanced their line toward the peaceful protesters. I watched as troopers stood about six inched from a sitting Justin Jones — while not wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic. Here is a video I recorded when state troopers brought in barricades while Justin and protesters sat in defiance:
As I wrote, the protesters have been at the capitol in some form every night since. In 2011, the Tennessee State legislature — as a response to the “Occupy Wall Street” protests — made it illegal to “camp” on state lands that were not expressly designated as a campground… But the offense was a misdemeanor. As the lawmakers grew more & more annoyed at the constant reminder of how Tennessee continues to embrace its racist past, the republican majority decided to up the ante. They proposed House Bill 8005, which would make it a FELONY to “camp” (a word which can be widely interpreted) on state grounds, as well as making it a Class A misdemeanor to “disrupt a lawful meeting.” This puts the act of protesting or interrupting a lawmaker’s session on par with crimes like Sexual Contact with a Minor by an Authority Figure, Child Abuse, Spousal Abuse, and Using Violence to Intimidate Voters… While putting the “crime” of peacefully protesting overnight on state property as a WORSE crime than all of those. Here is News Channel 5’s Phil Williams asking Bill Lee if that sounds like Justice to him. Watch Bill Lee’s cowardly answer:
Bill Lee said, “On balance, I think it was the right thing to do.” A reminder that the protestors said they would leave if he just had a conversation with them. He refused, and he responded by making it a felony to protest. Representative Jason Hodges went viral with his response to this. He said, “We seem not to worry about protesting when white people show up with AR-15s, but when black people show up with signs, it just seems like we try to pass legislation to keep people from protesting. And so that’s just a little concerning to me, and maybe that’s why the protesters are out there in the first place.” He is one of the people featured in a “NowThisNews” story about this… You should watch it.
HB 8005 makes it so that people protesting overnight on state grounds would have a MANDATORY MINIMUM 30-day jail sentence. It also calls for a mandatory minimum 30-day jail sentence for the misdemeanor offense of “causing physical contact” with police or other first responders. CAUSING PHYSICAL CONTACT. If a cop walks toward you and you don’t move, is that “causing physical contact?” This is unconscionable. Under the new law passed a week ago, convicted protesters could face up to SIX YEARS IN PRISON and LOSE THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE. All for the “crime” of protesting racism & police brutality. Please think about that for a moment while I find you numbers to call…
Listen — Tennessee lawmakers (who are working to disenfranchise protesters) would like for you to know that it’s really hard for THEM too… For example, State Senator Kerry Roberts of Springfield recalled being yelled at while he walked down the street, and he said, “The thing is, what I wish I could convey to people is that it’s really hard to be sympathetic to what someone is saying when they are yelling at you, when they’re trying to shame you, when they’re calling you names and so forth.” As they say here in Nashville, “Bless his heart.” Perhaps you can call him (his telephone number is 615-741-4499) and tell him how sympathetic you are to him being “shamed” simply because he voted to take away the voting rights of peaceful protesters.
Or perhaps you could call State Representative and porcupine Pokemon impersonator William Lamberth (whose telephone number is 615-741-1980) and express your feelings on the fascism behind HB 8005… Lamberth sponsored the bill.
Or you can join with the ACLU, and call for Bill Lee to veto this injustice. This bill has passed the state house and the state senate, and is awaiting Governor Lee’s signature. Bill Lee’s number is 615-741-2001. No one will answer (because he really doesn’t care), but you can leave a message. FLOOD THE LINES. Let him know that this is an injustice, it is anti-American, and that it reeks of creeping fascism. Or, you could speak his language, and get angry about the fact that this will no doubt end up in the Supreme Court & end up costing the state of Tennessee millions of dollars in legal fees. Either way, get angry and make some noise.
Also, if you’re interested and able, you can join and support the protesters. In addition to protests, there are other ways to help. They are doing a donation drive for the Nashville Free Store (a community-stocked store with free food, essential goods, & PPE) tomorrow (August 21), and you can drop off donations at the People’s Plaza (right in front of the State Capitol building in Nashville). The things they need the most are diapers, bleach, dish soap, laundry detergent, all purpose cleaners & cleaning supplies. Follow Brother Jones on Twitter at @brotherjones_. You can also follow them on Facebook HERE.
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