Tennessee Moves Toward Criminalization of the Black Lives Matter Movement

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During the social crisis over systemic racism and racially biased police violence, deeply conservative states have decided to take extreme measures.

According to the Washington Post, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) signed a new law last Thursday that could take away the right to vote from Black Lives Matter protesters. 

After months of protests outside the state Capitol against racial justice, and the movement’s shift to other resistance strategies, the state government has established that protesters “could now face felony charges punishable by up to six years in prison,” the media reported.

Convicted felons are thus automatically stripped of their voting rights in Tennessee.

“The racial motivation underlying the law is undeniable,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “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 said her organization is considering a sweeping lawsuit addressing all the ways she believes Tennessee Republicans are trying to suppress and intimidate voters.

“To criminalize protest activity and disenfranchise voters on top of it defies principles that lie at the heart of our Constitution,” she said. “It’s pouring fuel on the fire when communities are seeking justice, change, and reform.”

This strategy seems to add to the widespread attempt by Republican state governments to prevent mass voting in the November elections. In Tennessee, for example, it is also a crime to distribute absentee ballots, a move that coincides with the White House’s efforts to hinder absentee voting in presidential elections. 

However, Governor Lee’s decisions have not dampened the spirit of the protesters.

Protest organizer Justin Jones, 24, told The Washington Post: “There was no violent behavior by the protesters, but there was violence by the state troopers who dragged us down the Capitol stairs. This is all about criminalizing peaceful protesting. Everything we’ve done is the spirit of nonviolence. This will not deter us from pushing forward in challenging these laws, both in the courts and in the streets,” Jones said. “This just confirms that we must continue.”

With information from The Washington Post.