NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee Highway Patrol says they’re arresting protesters using warrants written for crimes they may have seen committed at prior protests.
Since the beginning of the week, protesters have claimed the most recent string of arrests felt more like they were being targeted. At protests outside the Capitol building, they say troopers would recognize some and later explain they were arrested for a prior warrant.
“They’re labeling certain people as instigators and as leaders of the movement and they’re doing anything to depress and silence their voices,” said Jay Terry.
Terry is one of the co-organizers for the People’s Plaza movement. A group that on Thursday, honored the late Ida B. Wells with a celebration for her birthday.
Back in July they first began referring to the area outside the Capitol as the Ida B. Wells Plaza. Named after Wells, who was a champion in the early civil rights movement and later went on to become one of the founding members of the NAACP.
Thursday would make it the first large gathering of it’s kind at the plaza since protesters learned about the warrants. Early in the day, we didn’t see the numbers we’ve come to expect from the protesters.
Yes, some were preparing for the big day ahead, but others may not be coming back.
“All we do is continue to push for constitutional rights, but governor Lee is trying to make us out to be criminals,” said Terry.
THP sent us a list of 16 names who were all arrested on warrants between July 11 and July 14.
The overwhelming majority of crimes involved disorderly conduct or equal access to public property, otherwise known as camping. What the list did not explain is when troopers first saw the crime happen.
When we contacted THP again to elaborate on the arrests and answer questions on if they were getting any directive to make more arrests, they answered by saying these were questions more suited for the attorneys of the protesters.
These same questions were forwarded to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. They echoed the message from THP, by saying they have nothing more to add to what was already said.
We did hear from some of the attorneys representing protesters who helped to better describe the process of having a warrant issued.
They say it’s up to the law enforcement officer who in this case is THP trooper. They can present their case before a judicial commissioner and make a sworn statement that any one of the protesters committed a crime while protesting at the plaza. If the commissioner feels there’s enough probable cause for a warrant, troopers can then make the arrest.
Rather than have to chase down someone, protesters say troopers are waiting for people to return to the plaza. Dawn Deaner is a former Davidson County public defender and now works as the executive director of the Choosing Justice Initiative. She is one of a handful of attorneys working with protesters who’ve been arrested.
Deaner says it’s not uncommon for officers to arrest someone well after they witness that person commit a crime. What troubles her is how these warrants are being issued for minor misdemeanors. Officers began writing citations early in June, but have since escalated into warrants and arrests.
These warrants of course mean at any time, driving your car, walking or wherever you are in the state, if you’re stopped by law enforcement you will be arrested. That may be enough to keep some familiar faces from returning, but not all.
“THP and governor Lee’s actions are about shaping public opinion as much as they are about silencing the public. So if a lot of people are getting arrested for different crimes and getting warrants placed for their arrests, it makes us appear to be violent. But when we engage in civil disobedience, we don’t harm anybody and we don’t break any laws,” said Terry.
Terry’s attorneys say of the nine charges she initially faced, five have already been dropped.