In a time of social unrest over police violence and police killings, people have taken to the streets to honor the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jocques Clemmons, Daniel Hambrick, and many others. Protesters have been in the plaza across from the Tennessee Capitol for nearly two months around the clock.
While states and local jurisdictions across the country have moved to reform police practices, Tennessee has responded by getting tough on protesters.
SB 8005/HB 8005 would increase the penalties and add mandatory minimum sentences for things like disorderly conduct, disrupting a meeting, vandalism and more – statutes that are often used to arrest people who are simply protesting. Camping on state property not designated for such use would become a felony under this bill. It would also create a pre-conviction punishment by requiring a person to spend 12 hours in jail if they are arrested for any of the offenses listed in the statute, even if they are not convicted, unless an official finds the person is unlikely to resume the action they were arrested for. Additionally, the bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences for assaults on first responders, though legislative leadership has not cited any examples of protesters assaulting law enforcement officers at the protests outside the Capitol.
While the state has a responsibility to maintain public safety, when penalties on existing crimes are increased in an outsized response to people simply exercising their First Amendment rights, the main result is to chill people’s free speech and discourage protests.
SB 8005/HB 8005 passed the state House and Senate on August 12, 2020.
Our letter urging Governor Lee to veto this bill can be found here.