protests

Knoxville event draws few Confederate monument backers, many counter-protesters

Demonstrators supporting a Confederate monument in Knoxville Saturday were vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters, reports the News Sentinel. Both sides were generally peaceful.

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Memphis police block Forrest cover-up, arrest eight protesters

Police twice blocked protester efforts to cover a Memphis monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest on Saturday, then arrested several participants and dispersed the angry crowd, reports the Commercial Appeal.

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Backlash develops over bills limiting liability of motorists hitting protesters (TN version scuttled)

Excerpt from an Associated Press story on the “intense backlash” that has developed over Republican-sponsored bills in state legislatures that limit the liability of motorists who hit protesters following last weekend’s Charlottesville, Va., episode:

The debate over Tennessee’s bill, which would have shielded drivers exercising “due care,” showed how the measures have been divisive.

During a March hearing, Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he worried the law would allow extremists to deliberately attack protesters and then claim it was accidental. He cited social media posts from Trump supporters that suggested the bill would make it legal to “run down protesters” when the president visited Tennessee.

“It was providing them the type of motivation, inspiration to get out there and be violent,” he said. “Those who seek to harm others, they think this gives them cover.”

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Protesters urge removal of N.B. Forrest bust; Haslam backs the idea

After demonstrators at the Tennessee state capitol called for removing a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest now housed in the building today, Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement saying he favors the idea. The protest — like others around the nation — was partly inspired by last weekend’s violent events in Charlottesville, Va., involving protests and counter-protests over removing a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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After disabled vet’s protest, Roe to look into modifying Veterans Administration pain management policy

A week after U.S. Rep. Phil Roe became the target of a disabled veteran’s public protest, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs has responded to a Johnson City Press request for his views on the subject in issue – the VA’s policy on pain management drugs. As committee chair, Roe says he will look into the need for revisions to the policy.

Robert Rose, who suffered severe spinal injuries while serving as a U.S. Marine, turned his wheelchair to face away from Roe as the congressman delivered a speech on his support for veterans July 3 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home. The newspaper reported at the time that Rose was “in visible pain” while showing “clear contempt” for Roe with the maneuver.

Rose said the VA’s “Opioid Safety Initiative,” implemented five years ago, has left him without the medication needed to combat chronic pain. On Monday, Roe sent the newspaper an email offering sympathy but declaring Rose’s criticism was unwarranted. Excerpt from today’s Press story:

“While I support the goals of this initiative and applaud the VA for taking steps to curb dependence on opioids, I also have been made aware of many concerns from veterans like Mr. Rose that necessary pain management may have been reduced or eliminated too quickly and will conduct oversight through my position as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as to whether the policy needs to be modified,” Roe wrote.

…The congressman complained in his email that he was not afforded the opportunity to respond to Rose’s criticisms. Roe was not available immediately following Rose’s comments to the Press, and the Press’ efforts to reach Roe and his staff on July 3 were unsuccessful.

The Press again contacted Roe’s office on Monday to request an interview. Lani Short, his press secretary, said the congressman would be unavailable because Roe’s schedule was “especially full.” Short said “everything he would say is found in the letter below,” referring to Roe’s email.

TN civil rights intimidation law challenged in gorilla mask protest at ETSU

The validity of Tennessee’s law prohibiting civil rights intimidation will be challenged by the attorney for a former East Tennessee State University student charged under the statute after appearing at a Black Lives Matter protest wearing a gorilla mask and carrying a string of bananas, reports the Johnson City Press.

Patrick Denton is representing Tristan Rettke, 19, who was also indicted on charges of disorderly conduct. A preliminary hearing on the charges was held Tuesday.

“This was a counter protest in a free-speech zone on campus,” Denton said after the hearing. “There’s no way that his free speech should have been criminalized. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to taint the jury pool.”

Rettke’s charges stem from a Sept. 28, 2016, incident when he showed up at a Black Lives Matter demonstration dressed in overalls and a gorilla mask while carrying bananas with string tied around them in a burlap bag with the Confederate flag on it.

The demonstration was held at Borchuck Plaza, outside Sherrod Library on the Johnson City campus, previously designated a free-speech zone. It’s supposed to be a location where students can freely express themselves without being harassed or intimidated. But several students participating in the demonstration said that’s exactly how they felt when the gorilla mask-clad man showed up — harassed and intimidated.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice told prosecutors they should give notice to the state attorney general’s office about Denton’s promised motion. Because the motion will challenge the constitutionality of state law, the attorney general’s office will handle it on behalf of the legislature.

Ryan’s Knoxville country club fundraiser draws protesters

U.S.  House Speaker Paul Ryan had private visits in Knoxville and Nashville Thursday with Tennessee Republican congressmen, reports the News Sentinel. Outside of Knoxville’s Cherokee County Club, site of a fundraiser, more than 100 protesters showed up despite the rain.

“He’s in there charging $10,000 for a photo op, and then we’re out here trying to make sure that we have health care next year,” said a soaked Gloria Johnson, a former Democratic state representative and the organizer of the protest, who joked that she left her raincoat at home.

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Sessions gives tough-on-crime speech in Memphis; draws protesters

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 law enforcement officials in Memphis, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed opioid abuse, urged protection of the country’s southern border and vowed to dismantle transnational cartels, drug trafficking and gangs, reports the Commercial Appeal.

He cited a 43 percent increase in homicides last year in Memphis as showing the need for tougher action. About 100 protesters were outside.

“If you are a gang member, know this: You think you are targeting us. Well, we are targeting you,” he said. “We will find you. We will devastate your networks. We will starve your revenue sources, deplete your ranks and seize your profits. We will not concede a single block or single street corner to illegal gangs.”

Sessions said 230 more Assistant United States attorneys will be hired nationwide, and he reiterated that he has empowered federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense in each case.”

To reduce opioid abuse, deaths and crime, he said prevention programs “in the long run are the most important and effective thing we can do.”

About 100 protesters also showed up, according to a sidebar story. They marched from the Memphis City Hall to the federal courthouse where Sessions was speaking chanting slogans including “No justice, no peace!” and “No racist police!” and “Hey, ho, Jeff Sessions has got to go!”

42 legislators ask delay in outsourcing; contract signing ahead of schedule

A week or so after 42 state legislators called for a delay in finalizing higher education outsourcing plans, Jones Lang LaSalle officials signed the company’s contract with the state ahead of schedule.

The Times-Free Press initially reported on the legislators’ letter to Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing czar, Terry Cowles. It asks “that the outsourcing process wait until the General Assembly is able to study and understand the effects on our public services, economy, and state workers.”

The Nashville Post reported Tuesday in an overview of recent outsourcing developments that JLL officials actually affixed their signatures to the contract document on Friday, a week earlier than planned.

The contract is under review by the comptroller’s office before the state can officially sign off on it, but that review could be complete by the end of the day Friday, according to comptroller spokesperson John Dunn. The state’s bond counsel is also reviewing the contract to insure compliance. According to Dunn, that office has been asked to expedite its review but no firm time frame for its completion exists.

But criticism is pouring in from legislators and students, as letters and complaints fly to and fro, and University of Tennessee at Knoxville students held a large protest on Monday.

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Sub kills lawsuit shield for drivers hitting protesters

A bill granting immunity from lawsuits to motorists who hit protesters – provided the driver was using “due care” – was killed on voice vote by the House Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday.

The bill (HB668) was sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. At the hearing, a leading critic was Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who  said the bill would be constitutionally suspect and embolden people to think they can hit protesters. He read tweets about President Donald Trump’s visit to Nashville last week, including one that incorrectly says it’s legal to run over protesters because of the bill, according to a brief AP report.

Hill said he doesn’t endorse those comments, and his bill doesn’t intend to sanction driving into protesters.

NOTE: The Senate approved 29-2 Thursday SB902 by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, which make it a crime to obstruct traffic on public road if the obstruction blocks an emergency vehicle. The penalty would be a $200 fine. It’s scheduled for a House floor vote next week.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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