Democratic Tennessee lawmaker John DeBerry voted in favor of a bill that increases penalties for agitators who assault law enforcement officers, riot and destroy property. It also makes camping on restricted state property a felony. The legislation passed 71-20.
He accompanied his vote with a fiery speech. The riots that have taken place in the wake of the police death of George Floyd are akin to "anarchy," DeBerry said. That kind of behavior, he added, is an "affront to all citizens."
"Anyone with any common sense whatsoever, know that what we see is not peaceful," he said.
DeBerry's regard for the police is personal because, as he noted, his nephew is an officer, who was recently attacked by rioters.
"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?" he asked. "And that's okay? What has happened to us?"
The Republicans in the room stood up and applauded.
Rep. John Deberry, a colleague of mine from across the aisle, gave a powerful and very moving speech last night in the TN House chamber. https://t.co/OksRCKTysA— Rep. Andrew Farmer (@RepAndrewFarmer) August 13, 2020
But DeBerry's opinion, as you can guess, was not shared by his Democratic colleagues. Take a look at what another African-American Democratic legislator, Torrey Harris, had to say.
"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 responded. "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."
Other party officials are fed up with his common sense too. DeBerry has frustrated his colleagues by often voting with Republicans, particularly on abortion and school choice. He's also accepted donations from GOP-aligned political action committees. In April, the Tennessee Democratic Party's executive committee removed DeBerry from the Aug. 6 primary ballot, and he's now running as an independent for the November election. But he said it doesn't matter what letter comes after his name. His constituents know where he stands.
"My district has elected me 13 times," DeBerry said in May. "Not just because I'm John DeBerry or because I'm a Democrat. But because they agree with what I fought for and what I stood for."
By the way, DeBerry made an important point when he noted that he and his dad once marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the poster child for peaceful protests. Keyword: peaceful.
"Those people stood with class and courage, and they changed the entire world because they were not destroying property," he noted. "They were not being disrespectful to their fellow citizens, but they showed people what citizenship was all about in the first place."