Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee failed to enforce state law Friday night and allowed left-wing activist Justin Jones and a handful of his fellow protesters to camp out in Legislative Plaza, pitching tents and sitting on the steps of the plaza throughout the night and into the morning.
“By setting up tents and other equipment, this group is breaking the post-Occupy law @GovBillLee said he would enforce. It’s now midnight and there have been no arrests and no real conflict with the small group of troopers,” Nashville Post and Nashville Scene reporter Stephen Elliott tweeted from Legislative Plaza as Friday night turned into Saturday morning:
Folks we got another shift change (see above).
By setting up tents and other equipment, this group is breaking the post-Occupy law @GovBillLee said he would enforce. It’s now midnight and there have been no arrests and no real conflict with the small group of troopers. pic.twitter.com/2EjPMc1q6i
— Stephen Elliott (@ElliottStephenB) June 13, 2020
A 2012 state law, “The Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” clearly states that people may not use state-owned property for camping if it’s not a specifically designated camping area. Violation of the law is a Class A misdemeanor.
The Act, which legislators passed and became law in response to the 2012 Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Nashville movement, allows state officials to physically remove items such as tents blankets, and sleeping bags, which it states are “subject to seizure and forfeiture.”
The law, as written, states the following:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 14, Part 4 is amended by adding the following as a new section:
- This section shall be known and may be cited as the “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012.”
- As used in this section “camping” means the erection or use of temporary structures such as tents, tarps, and other temporary structures for living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep.
- “Camping” shall include, but not be limited to, the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping, storing personal belongings, making any fire, doing any digging, or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities whether by fire or use of artificial means such as a propane stove or other heat-producing portable cooking equipment.
- An area of state-owned land may be designated as a camping area by the department, agency, official or officials responsible for the operation, protection or maintenance of the property in question. The area’s designation as a camping area may be accomplished by means of signage, advertisement or other notice designed to make known its availability for the activity of camping.
- It is an offense for a person to engage in the activity of camping on property owned by the state knowing that the area on which the camping occurs is not specifically designated for use as a camping area by the department or agency responsible for such land.
- Any items associated with camping in violation of this section, including tents, portable toilets, sleeping bags, tarps, stakes, ropes, blankets, propane heaters, cooking equipment and generators shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture by the appropriate state officials authorized to maintain and protect the land on which the camping equipment is found or other officials whose duties include enforcement of this section.
- Violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
- Nothing in this section shall be construed as preempting or preventing a state department or agency with responsibility for state property from enacting or enforcing other lawful and reasonable rules, regulations, or statutes, that concern the use of and access to state property. However, if any such rule, regulation or statute is in conflict with this section, it is the intent that this section shall prevail and the prohibition against camping on state property in areas not designated as camping areas be a uniform one.
Nashville Scene and Nashville Post reporter Stephen Elliott later tweeted, “one protestor who stayed through the night says troopers searched the tents for sleeping people around 4, but otherwise no conflict.”
As The Star reported Saturday, perhaps 100 to 150 or so protestors claimed Friday night that they had taken control of Nashville’s Legislative Plaza. They renamed it Ida B. Wells Plaza and draped a black tarp with the civil rights’ journalist’s name over a post visible to almost the entire surrounding area.
And then the protestors pitched their tents and said they weren’t going anywhere.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer told The Tennessee Star around 8 p.m. that no one had instructed him to arrest people as of yet. Other than what they said in their speech, none of the protestors had made any move— such as laying their heads down on pillows — to indicate they would stay the night.
Left-wing activist Justin Jones spoke.
“The governor seemed a little scared today because we said we were going to spend the night and we meant that, because this is stolen land. This is our land and that we have been marching for weeks now. There has been no change from those in this building. And so we are holding this space. We will set these tents out here. We intend to stay until Governor Lee comes out and talks to people about why we are out here,” Jones said.
“We saw Marsha Blackburn today call us anarchists. We saw Speaker [Cameron] Sexton today say that if we stay out here they will try and raise the penalty to a felony. The real criminals, though, work in this building. The real criminals work on the Metro Nashville Police Department. The real criminals work in the legislature. So we are here to reclaim this space. We encourage you to tell other people to come out today. We intend to stay here. We are a non-violent protest.”
As The Star reported Friday, Lee said Friday afternoon that state officials will not entertain any criminal behavior at the demonstration.
For his part, Jones took to social media and flaunted the fact that he and his fellow activists had camped out overnight on state-owned property.
Going on hour 12 of holding this space in the newly named Ida. B wells Plaza.
After night long protest, grateful for sunrise.
We are out here reclaiming space for THE PEOPLE in resistance to white supremacy and police brutality.
— Justin Jones (@brotherjones_) June 13, 2020
“We’ve been out here for 12 hours now. It’s a little past 5 a.m.,” Jones said in a video he posted on his Twitter feed Saturday.
Jones then asked an unidentified woman how she was feeling.
“Feeling wonderful. Feeling a sense of community and accomplishment,” the woman told Jones.
“Empowerment and, at the same time, humility. Thanks to God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, the Great Spirit, for keeping us safe throughout the night.”
In the video another woman is lying down with her head propped on some unknown object she had clearly used as a pillow. Jones had his legs covered with a blanket.
Jones asked for more people to show up to relieve the ones who were out all night as part of their “ongoing resistance to white supremacy and police brutality.”
Members of Gov. Lee’s staff did not return The Tennessee Star’s request for comment Saturday morning.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokesman Wes Moster had little to say in an email late Friday night.
“We are monitoring this demonstration very closely. I appreciate your inquiry,” Moster said.
“However we simply do not discuss what our tactics or procedures may or may not be.”
Jones posted one video on his Facebook page overnight showing activists chanting loudly at around 3 a.m.
In another video, Jones bragged the following:
“Tennessee State troopers have changed shifts 6 times since we’ve been out here. Young people, respond chanting: ‘Shift change. Shift change. We still gonna say they name.’ Still holding space.”
Nashville Scene and Nashville Post reporter Stephen Elliott has posted several additional tweets from Legislative Plaza Saturday morning:
No arrests at the protest march for moms and kids. After story time, the group marched a few laps around Bicentennial Mall chanting Black Lives Matter and other slogans. pic.twitter.com/Krc8NMxQ87
— Stephen Elliott (@ElliottStephenB) June 13, 2020
Another protest by the same group is scheduled at Legislative Plaza this evening from 5 pm to 7 pm.
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