Tennessee Speaker's Aide Tried To Frame Black Student Activist
This past March, Vanderbilt University student Justin Jones was arrested for disorderly conduct and misdemeanor assault at the Tennessee state capitol. Authorities claim Jones threw a cup of coffee into an elevator, striking House Speaker Glen Casada and Covington Rep. Debra Moody when Jones and a dozen others showed up to protest the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust in the capitol. Forrest was a Confederate general and an early Klu Klux Klan leader, which is a benign way of saying "traitor and domestic terrorist." Still, coffee is hot (unless you're drinking it cold like a sucker) and shouldn't be tossed at people, even Republicans.
Jones was banned from the Capitol building and order to have no contact, caffeinated or otherwise, with Casada. Later, Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk filed a motion to revoke the divinity student's bond. The motion claimed Jones had sent an email to Casada's chief of staff, Cade Cothren, which copied Casada and violated the bond conditions. One problem: The photo of the email the DA received was dated March 1, a day after the no-contact order, but Jones had the original because it was, you know, an email. The actual date was February 25th, days prior to the alleged coffee-hurling incident.
When you doctor an email, make sure to burn the negative.NewsChannel5
This looks like a blatant and weirdly incompetent effort to frame Jones. But why? Jones already publicly admitted to the charge on Twitter. (Although he contends it was just a "few drops of iced tea" and not scalding hot coffee.) The kid is hardly a criminal mastermind. He's just a student activist. The press has described Jones as a "thorn" in Casada's side, but he's really just a young man advocating against voter suppression and the offensive commemoration of white supremacists.
Casada told reporters he knows "nothing" about the altered email, but he also claims it's just "absurd" that his chief of staff would do anything so shady. The speaker suggested that internal security issues delayed delivery of the email until March 1. That's certainly plausible, more so than Cothren's own explanation that the email's date changed when he forwarded it. The good news is that everyone agreed not to throw Jones in jail needlessly.
However, attention has now turned to Cothren, which isn't going well for him. A "former acquaintance" sent News Channel 5 text messages from Cothren that include racial slurs and not-so-nice comments about black people. Wow. How can you do this and look Nathan Bedford Forrest in the eye each day?
Cothren does not deny that the texts are his. Casada released a statement saying that he's never known Cothren to "act in a manner in which these emails and texts falsely portray him." Unfortunately for Casada, there is some evidence that contracts this claim.
Casada has said that those who protest the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust in the capitol should consider historical context. We think the proper context is that he was a racist even by 19th Century "we still own other people" standards, and those who defend honoring him on the pretense of "history" are probably also racist.
DA Funk has requested that a special prosecutor take over the Jones case. We get the sense that whatever the prosecutor uncovers will burn more than whatever Jones threw at Casada.
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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.