Protest and Lose the Right to Vote, Says New Tennessee Law

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Aug 24, 2020

People in Tennessee who engage in civil disobedience by staging around-the-clock sit-ins or destroying public property can be fined as much as $15,000, and face upgraded misdemeanor or felony charges, along with at least 90 days in prison, which could lead to their suffrage rights being revoked, following a new partisan law passed by Governor Bill Lee (R-Tenn.) on August 20.

“I think what we saw was a courthouse on fire and businesses being broken into and vehicles being damaged,” Lee told reporters from the Associated Press. “We saw lawlessness that needed to be addressed immediately. And that was done so.” 

In addition to spelling out the various penalties protestors could face if, for example, they impede the work of or assault first responders or law enforcement (a $5,000 fine and a mandatory-minimum 30-day jail sentence) or participate in a riot (30 days in prison), the bill also stipulates that “camping on state property” overnight, between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m, is now an illegal act. 

“This bill increases the punishment for illegal camping on state property from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days imprisonment and an order of restitution for any property damage or loss incurred as a result of the offense,” states the new law, which goes into effect on October 1. According to the state’s laws, anyone who has been convicted of arson and felonious burning, burglary or receiving stolen property, to name a few offenses, do not have the right to vote.

“The racial motivation underlying the law is undeniable,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told CNN. “It’s a clear backlash response to the Black Lives Matter movement and to people who are decisively protesting racial injustice and police violence.” Clarke continued. “To criminalize protest activity and disenfranchise voters on top of it defies principles that lie at the heart of our Constitution. It’s pouring fuel on the fire when communities are seeking justice, change and reform.”

See the amended bill here and the ACLU’s public response here.