Rep. John DeBerry’s Democrat Opponent Condemns Vote for Enhanced Penalties for Assaults Against First Responders and Damage to Property During Protests

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State Rep. John DeBerry’s Democrat opponent in the November election condemned the long-time legislator’s vote for a bill that increased penalties for committing assault against a first responder or damaging public and private property.

DeBerry is running as an Independent in the November 3 general election for House District 90, having been ousted by the majority White Executive Committee from the Tennessee Democrat Party after serving in the Tennessee House of Representatives as an elected Democrat for nearly 26 years.

DeBerry’s general election opponent, Torrey Harris, won the three-way Democrat primary on August 6.  That was a feat he could not accomplish in the 2018 Democrat primary when Harris challenged DeBerry.

In the Democrat primary about two weeks ago, Harris got 3,829 votes.  Comparatively, he received 3,112 votes in the 2018 Democratic primary, bested by DeBerry’s 4,737 votes.

The legislation DeBerry was criticized for was considered in the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly called by Governor Bill Lee and held during this week.

One of the issues to be addressed in the special session was, in accordance with the governor’s proclamation, “whether additional legislation to safeguard the right of all Tennesseans to peacefully demonstrate by protecting the safety of state employees and the public and preventing damage or destruction of public property is appropriate.”

This was after Lee explained his reasoning, “Whereas, I have repeatedly supported the right of Tennesseans to engage in peaceful assembly and protest, and many peaceful protests and demonstrations have occurred across Tennessee in recent weeks, including on and around the State Capitol grounds, but some protests on and around the Capitol grounds have also resulted in vandalism and defacement of public property, overnight camping on public property in violation of state law, and other risks to public safety.”

The legislation itself, in fact, repeats some of the same language in the proclamation and recognizes elsewhere in its whereas clauses that Tennesseans have the right to engage in peaceful assembly and protests and that the right to free speech and assembly are guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The bill defines a “first responder” and the conditions under which a person commits assault against a first responder.  It goes on to detail the penalties for violations of that section of the law, which ranges from a Class A misdemeanor, a $5,000 fine and minimum mandatory sentence of 30 days incarceration up to a Class C felony, a fine of $15,000 and a minimum mandatory sentence of 90 days incarceration.

Other provisions address aggravated criminal trespass, including that to the residential property of a law enforcement officer and other specified individuals, what constitutes damage relative to vandalism, obstruction of a public way or highway, illegal camping on state property and pointing a laser at first responders under certain circumstances.

When it comes to illegal camping on state property, the person must receive notice from an official that camping is prohibited and then continue illegally camping on state property before committing an offense.

For any property seized in conjunction with a camping violation, the offender has 90 days to claim the property for its return.

In large part, offenses described in the legislation included penalties that were enhanced from a misdemeanor to felony charges and increases in the dollar value of the associated fines.

When the legislation came up for a vote on the House floor, there was much-heated debate from Democrats who opposed the legislation despite Republican rebuttals that it would not apply to those who were peaceably protesting.

After more than an hour of debate, DeBerry was recognized by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

“I don’t want to question the patriotism or the integrity of any of my colleagues who have spoken before me.  That’s not for me to do, just as it is not for them to do.  We find ourselves doing it quite a bit in this body and that’s unfortunate, because folks sent us here not to accuse each other of anything, but to do the job they sent us to do.”

DeBerry began and went on to qualify his position on the proposed bill.

“I rise not to go against or support this legislation,” he said.

DeBerry went on to explain his perspective.

I rise because I continue to hear references to what I saw in growing up in this country and growing up in the state of Tennessee as I walked with my father and worked with my father here in the state of Tennessee and Memphis, Tennessee and across this state and across this country in the middle of what has been referenced to on several occasions, the civil rights movement. 

And, you know, people continue to refer to this, but I saw it.  I saw men and women stand with courage and integrity and class and they changed the world.  They changed the world because what the world could see in them was the lie that was being told about them.

I am one of those individuals who walked in back doors because the law said I had to.  I’m one of those individuals who rode on the back of the bus on the back seats that were not cushioned, because the law said I had to. I went to the water and drank “colored” water, because the law said I had to.  I went to a school where everybody looked me and the country was divided and segregated, because the law said that I had to.  So, all of these things we continue to refer to are the things that me and my generation lived.  We saw it for ourselves without reading it in the history books, but we lived it.

DeBerry continued for a total of about 10 minutes.

The legislation went on to pass in the House with a 71-20 vote along party lines with the exception of DeBerry and John Mark Windle (D-Livingston).  The Senate also passed the bill with a 25-4 vote, again along party lines, with the exception of Nashville Republican Steve Dickerson voting with Democrats.

Harris issued a statement the following day on his Facebook page, mischaracterizing the bill by titling his press release “Tennessee lawmakers target protesters by criminalizing peaceful protesting as a felony.”

Then, the very first statement in the body of the press release is, “Let’s be factual.”

Harris did then qualify his “factual” statement that the majority of protests and protesters in Tennessee have been peaceful and that he has been one of them.

Harris went on to call out DeBerry for being an African American legislator from Memphis who voted to punish those protesting over the killing of unarmed African Americans.

While much of the debate against the legislation seemed to focus on how it would hurt Black protesters, even the Capitol Hill protesters’ own pictures contradict that sentiment.

At the 59-day mark of protesters occupying Capitol Hill at their renamed Ida B. Wells Plaza, group photos show that the majority of protesters are White.

To one of DeBerry’s points in his floor speech, Harris rendered a judgment of DeBerry’s vote based on what he perceives civil rights leaders’ reactions would be.  “Civil rights leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the late John Lewis would be dismayed at such a vote a time like this.”

DeBerry as an Independent and Harris, a Democrat, will go head-to-head in the November 3 general election with no Republican in the House District 90 race.

The full video of DeBerry’s August 12 comments from the House floor on HB 8005 / SB 8005 can be read below and watched here.

I don’t want to question the patriotism or the integrity of any of my colleagues who have spoken before me.  That’s not for me to do, just as it is not for them to do.  We find ourselves doing it quite a bit in this body and that’s unfortunate, because folks sent us here not to accuse each other of anything, but to do the job that they sent us to do.

I rise not to go against or support this legislation.

I rise because I continue to hear references to what I saw in growing up in this country and growing up in the state of Tennessee as I walked with my father and worked with my father here in the state of Tennessee in Memphis, Tennessee and across this state and across this country in the middle of what has been referenced to on several occasions, the civil rights movement. 

And, you know, people continue to refer to this, but I saw it.  I saw men and women stand with courage and integrity and class and they changed the world.  They changed the world because what the world could see in them was the lie that was being told about them.

I am one of those individuals who walked in back doors because the law said I had to.  I’m one of those individuals who rode on the back of the bus on the back seats that were not cushioned, because the law said I had to. I went to the water and drank “colored” water, because the law said I had to.  I went to a school where everybody looked me and the country was divided and segregated, because the law said that I had to.  So, all of these things we continue to refer to are the things that me and my generation lived.  We saw it for ourselves without reading it in the history books, but we lived it.”

I went with my father when he and our neighbor got one of those “I am a man” signs and went downtown Memphis and watched him stand there proudly with Dr. King and other men and women – Black and White – who had enough courage to stand up against what was wrong. 

And the way they did it, they had on their suits, their shirts, their ties, their hats and, if it was cold, their overcoats.  They locked arms and they marched peacefully and Dr. King stood for that which was peaceful because the world took a look at what was happening in Memphis and Chicago and Detroit and Washington D.C. and all over this country.

We changed the entire world.  We changed it because those men and women had enough guts, integrity, enough citizenship and love of country because my father was a Korean War era soldier as many of those other men and women were.

They didn’t beg for anything.  They didn’t beg for citizenship, they demanded it because they were American citizens who paid taxes, who raised children, who paid house notes and rent and did everything that they were supposed to do so that they could demand from this country and its constitution those things they were supposed to have. 

How did they do it?

They did it by standing like men and women of integrity and class and common sense and values.

When the riots started and folks started burning stuff down, that’s when my father took my arm and we left.  We left because that was not what we were there for.  That was not what Dr. King was there for.  That’s not what others who were famous in the civil rights days were there for. 

This was not peaceful.  This was not part of our movement and it only hurt everything.

That man lay in a pool of blood.

I stood there and watched him make a speech.  The building wasn’t really full, it was crowded because there was a terrible storm that night but my daddy was intending and most certainly he wanted to hear that speech and wanted me to be there.

I gave my seat to a lady who came in wringing wet and stood over, not because there weren’t any other seats, but because I could stand against the wall and be closer as he spoke.

I watched that man shiver.  I watched his voice shake.  I watched him tremble, because he knew, something he knew that he probably wasn’t going to leave Memphis.  I don’t know what providence God had given to make him prepare for this when he said he’d been to the mountaintop.  I don’t know what he was thinking when he said I may not get there with you.  But something told that good man on that terrible stormy night that something bad was getting ready to happen. 

Whenever we use the opportunity to do wrong.  That policeman that put his foot on that man’s neck was wrong and every one of us in this room decry it.  Every one of us in this room condemn it.  We say it is wrong.  And, in America, we have a system of justice, a system of justice that’s going to bring the full impact of the law down upon him and I think every one of us in this room will support that.

And we know, we know that man lay there in a pool of blood.  This man didn’t die surrounded by his children and his wife.  He died in a pool of blood from a coward’s bullet.  He died on that day, and I remember as we went back to Memphis and all of the riots broke loose, everything he stood for, everything he stood for was all of a sudden being torn down, until calmer voices, calmer voices came and said Dr. King was against this.  He was against this.  He was against this.

My family raised money and sent my dad to Washington for that march when that man stood there and said that he wanted his children judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. 

And all we do in America right now is talk about color.  Every issue, every issue is about race, it’s about color instead of us sitting down at the table like men and women of common sense and common justice and understanding that our enemies are looking with a greedy vigilance upon us as we tear ourselves apart internally.

They have been watching us for 50 years, preparing step by step by step by step for us to kill ourselves.

And I may not be back here next year and I’m sure everything I say is going to be misconstrued and misquoted and used against me in November.  Fine.  Fine, because I stand for my father’s legacy.  I stand for the men and women who acted like they had some sense and some courage and changed this country by being men and women who stood for something.

If we don’t start standing for something, don’t you know that the people who are looking at what’s happening in Washington and Detroit and Portland and Seattle, they’re getting emboldened because we act like a bunch of punks, too frightened to stand up and protect our own stuff.

You tell me that somebody got the right to tear down property that Tennessee taxpayers paid for, that American taxpayers paid for and somebody has the right to destroy it, deface it and tear it down?  What kind of people have we become that we can’t protect our own stuff and when the heroes are those who violate the law?

Our police chief in Memphis, Tennessee when they shut the bridge down between Memphis and Arkansas, our police chief walked up there because it was a peaceful protest, even though they had shut down that bridge.  He walked up there, he talked to the protesters.  He let them know that they had a right to protest and after a while, he walked them all off the bridge.  Because they conducted themselves properly, he conducted himself properly and there was no one harmed on that evening. 

Peaceful protest ends peacefully.  Anarchy ends in chaos.  And, what we see right now, any of us with any common sense, any common sense whatsoever know that what we see is not peaceful. 

So, we can continue to fool ourselves and mix with words and use rhetoric and public relations in order to frost this stuff over and put a nice picture on what we see that is frightening, frightening. 

I have a nephew who is a policeman who talked about getting attacked the other night. 

You’re telling me that somebody has the right to throw feces and urine in the face of those that we as taxpayers pay to protect us and that’s okay? 

What has happened to us? 

If we don’t get this right right now, I’ve got grandchildren.  I don’t want to see the country we’re going to have 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now.

If we don’t start acting like we got some guts, right now – brethren, sisteren, friends, colleagues – right now.

– – –

Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Thoughts to “Rep. John DeBerry’s Democrat Opponent Condemns Vote for Enhanced Penalties for Assaults Against First Responders and Damage to Property During Protests”

  1. lb

    Mr DeBerry is arguably the bravest person in TN Govt right now. THIS is REAL “speaking Truth to Power”.
    I hope he wins his Election-he was wronged so terribly just because he isnt “woke” enough.
    What an inspiring man–God Bless him. We need many more of him.

  2. John

    There doesn’t need to be an “enhanced” penalty. A human life is a human life. It is ridiculous when an entire police department gets mobilized to catch (at the very least least) one person when a cop gets killed. They don’t do that for the average Joe citizen.

  3. 83ragtop50

    Would it be too much to assume that Mr. Harris is also in favor of releasing “nonviolent” criminals back onto the street so they can commit more crimes? The Democrats in this area are insulting to one’s sense of justice.

  4. Kevin

    How come this is so partisan? Don’t Democrats think that people who destroy other people’s stuff should be punished? And if they continue to destroy other peoples stuff, they should get punished harder? I guess that since they got “civil rights”, now they want “uncivil rights” too?

    But one thing is crystal clear, Representative John DeBerry is a class act, a true statesman.
    This world and Nashville is a much better place with him in it! We all benefit!

    1. Dave

      The left is also pushing to allow prison inmates the right to vote, which of course is in line with all their pro-criminal policies & anti-law enforcement agenda. They will do anything to regain power, even at the expense of destroying our country.

  5. rick

    John DeBerry is a good man, his opponent is today’s woke trash!

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