Tennessee Republicans: Protesters Can Either Have Free Speech Or Voting Rights, Not Both

Protests

Protesters have camped outside the Tennessee state house for more than two months. They want to meet with Governor Bill Lee to discuss racial inequality and police brutality. They'd also love it if the bust of white supremacist asshole Nathan Bedford Forrest was removed from the state capitol. Lee is a Republican so he doesn't give a damn about any of this. He just wants the protesters to go away, and rather than listening to them as if they are citizens, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill last week making a peaceful form of direct action a felony.

This was already a misdemeanor, which is a fair punishment for what amounts to loitering. The governor won't mandate mask wearing in the state, which would actually save lives, but he must crack down on the exercise of First Amendment rights or chaos will prevail.

From the Washington Post:

"It is to prevent what has happened in other cities like Portland and Washington, D.C.," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R) said Wednesday after the measure passed. "If people … knowingly thumb their nose at authority and don't do what authorities have requested they do, they should be charged with a serious crime."

Yeah, we're not sure that's how the Constitution works. Speeding or reckless driving aren't even felonies in Tennessee. There's also no evidence the protesters are violent, and if they were, you'd arrest them for assault or looking at a cop funny. Those laws already exist. And Republicans supposedly hate “extra" laws.


Tennessee Bill Criminalizes Protesting | NowThis www.youtube.com

Convicted felons permanently lose their right to vote, which is already immoral and undemocratic. As the documentary 13 details, the legal classification of “criminal" permits slavery in all but name. The larger intent isn't to remove bad actors from society temporarily but to create a permanent underclass. In 1865, after Tennessee passed extremely harsh “Black codes," Black people went from one-fiftieth to one-third of the state's prison population. See what happens when you free us? Thanks, Abe!

The same (white) people who insist there's no such thing as systemic racism in law enforcement and criminal justice would argue that Tennessee's crackdown on the scourge of lawless camping applies to everyone equally, regardless of race. This ignores the history of "selective enforcement" during Jim Crow (and even after). A few days after the Civil War officially ended, Tennessee passed a law to “punish all armed prowlers, guerrilla, brigands, and highway robbers" and another that authorized capital punishment for thefts, burglary, and arson. Although race was never directly mentioned in these laws, Blacks were directly targeted under them.

Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who sponsored the current bill, claims this is all about protecting law enforcement, as though there aren't already extensive penalties for cracking a cop's baton with your skull.

LAMBERTH: Anytime a law enforcement officer is assaulted I would agree that really is an assault on the state of Tennessee and all of our people, because that officer is really out there to protect and serve us. From whenever these bills are signed by the governor or go into law ... every officer can be certain they will be protected more than they are right now.

Yeah, that should scare the fuck out of you. This is about suppressing dissent, plain and simple. The police have never been the ones in physical distress when citizens have demonstrated for civil rights.

Police Brutality During the Civil Rights Movement www.youtube.com

I don't support assaulting anyone, but I don't buy the argument that spitting on a cop or throwing a rock in their direction is an “assault" on the collective citizenry. The police don't represent us. They are first and foremost weapons of the state. And the bad guys have the full support of their guns.

[Washington Post / CNN]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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