Tennessee in national spotlight with harsh penalties for protesters


As protests calling for racial justice continue to rock American cities, Tennessee's new law imposing harsher fines and penalties for protesters is back in the national spotlight.

The new legislation was signed into law by Governor Lee following a summer of demonstrators outside the Capitol building.

Previously a misdemeanor- camping on state property is now a felony offense, punishable by up to six years in prison, and a fine up to $3,000.

It also classifies aggravated rioting as a felony, with prison time up to 15 years, and fines as high as $10,000.

But Democratic Representative John DeBerry of Shelby County is not backing down in his support of the law, taking a firm stand against the protests, condemning those who compare them to the Civil Rights movement.

"I saw it, I saw men and women stand with courage, integrity and class and they changed the world, because what the world could see in them was the lie that was being told about them," says DeBerry.

That's why DeBerry says destruction of property should not be tolerated.

"The way they did it, they had on their suits, their ties, their shirts, their hats, they locked arms and they marched peacefully and Dr. King stood for that which was peaceful," says DeBerry.

Nashville criminal defense attorney Bryan Stephenson represents protesters who got arrested and says the law goes too far, discouraging even peaceful protesters.

"People might get scared of this law and say, 'it's not worth it, I'm not going to exercise my First Amendment right because I don't want to be considered a felon, I don't want to get arrested.' It has a chilling effect on the First Amendment," says Stephenson.

The new anti-protest laws are also getting attention because they strip offenders of their voting rights. However, that is the case with any felony conviction in Tennessee.

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