Harris attacks DeBerry for stance in favor of protest bill

By , Daily Memphian Published: August 14, 2020 12:16 PM CT

Democratic candidate Torrey Harris is firing the first salvo in the state House District 90 race, taking state Rep. John DeBerry to task for his support of legislation designed to crack down on protesters statewide and around the Capitol.

In a release by his campaign, Harris said the majority of protests in Memphis and Nashville have been peaceful, including those in which he participated.

Akbari: Anti-protest bill ‘ludicrous’ for making illegal camping a felony

“John DeBerry and the other like-minded Republicans voted to punish, with felonies, people who protested overnight on a public plaza because it embarrasses them,” Harris, a Shelby County human relations director, said in the release.

DeBerry, a veteran lawmaker, is running as an independent against Harris in the Nov. 3 election. The Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee removed DeBerry from the Democratic ballot because of his continual vote with Republicans on key issues and for taking campaign money from donors who typically give to conservatives and Republicans.

DeBerry gave a fiery speech on the House floor Wednesday, Aug. 12, in favor of the legislation, which increases penalties for assaulting and threatening law enforcement officers, rioting and defacing property. It makes camping on restricted state property a felony.

<strong>John DeBerry</strong>

John DeBerry

He called what has happened nationwide and in Tennessee in the wake of the George Floyd death “anarchy” and recalled the days he and his father marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that group marched peacefully and with “class” as King advocated non-violence.

DeBerry and Democratic state Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston were the only non-Republicans to vote for the bill in a 71-20 outcome.

Reacting the day after the vote, Harris said he finds it embarrassing for the Legislature in the past six months to pass strict abortion measures, fail to expand Medicaid and this week approve “felonies for free speech,” while taking no action on police brutality, “which is the very reason the protesters are out there to begin with!”

“How an African American legislator from Memphis could vote to punish protesters when they are protesting because unarmed African Americans are being killed defies logic to me and reeks of Republican Trumpism,” Harris said in the release. “We should be protecting our rights, not further limiting them. Civil rights leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late John Lewis would be dismayed at such a vote at a time like this.”

<strong>Torrey Harris</strong>

Torrey Harris

Reached for comment, DeBerry said his opponent acts as if African Americans don’t own homes or businesses that should be protected by police.

When protesters throw urine and feces on police officers and cuss them out when they’ve been assigned to protect public property, it is an “affront to all citizens,” DeBerry said.

The legislator said he doesn’t know of instances in which state troopers were assaulted in that manner around the State Capitol, but he said it has happened across the nation in places such as Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. He noted he has been threatened too.

“I was there with Dr. King. I don’t need him to tell me about Dr. King. I was there when he marched, I was there when he spoke,” DeBerry said, adding his father attended the March on Washington in 1963.

“Those people stood with class and courage, and they changed the entire world because they were not destroying property, they were not being disrespectful to their fellow citizens, but they showed people what citizenship was all about in the first place.”

Protesters who set up on the edge of the War Memorial Plaza for two months across from the State Capitol clashed occasionally with state troopers stationed there to protect state property after a Nashville riot when the Metro Courthouse was set on fire.

Numerous protesters were arrested over 60 days for defacing property and trespassing, and this week some were taken in when they tried to block lawmakers from leaving the legislative parking garage. Troopers made a path for legislators to leave Monday and Tuesday nights.

Though King and other protesters were arrested repeatedly in the 1960s, DeBerry said they fought for equal rights when Black Americans were forced to attend segregated schools, drink at “Colored” water fountains and ride on the back of city buses.

DeBerry contended he marched for the right of people today to protest – but only peacefully.

“This stuff going on right now don’t represent Black people. This represents anarchy, chaos, disrespect and lawbreaking, period, just that simple,” DeBerry said. “Just like when that (police officer) put his foot on that man’s neck, that represented the breaking of the law, the violation of that man’s rights and justice, and he needs to be held to the fullest extent of the law.”

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Torrey Harris John DeBerry
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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