This year, the United States has been plagued twice: once with COVID-19 and again with the threat of police brutality. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota was heard of around the world, and his death has reignited the Black Lives Matter movement. Since May, Americans are leaving their homes after a prolonged period of lockdown to stand up for what they believe in, and demand justice for the lives lost at the hands of police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a demand for racial equality in the United States, and protests are occurring daily.
In Tennessee, a group called “Equity Alliance,” has had dozens of its members camped outside of the state capitol building since June, demanding to meet with Governor Bill Lee to discuss the possibility of social justice reform. Members of the group have stated that they won’t leave the area until the governor agrees to hear their ideas. They would like to address systemic racism in Tennessee, police reform, and the beating of an African American man in Nashville while in police custody on May 21, 2020. In August, Governor Lee signed an executive order, making sleeping on state property a felony in the state of Tennessee. Not only does this criminalize peaceful protest, but this criminalizes homelessness.
As of 2019, Nashville alone had an estimated 1,400 homeless individuals living in shelters, and over 500 homeless individuals living on the streets. This recent executive order prosecutes homeless individuals for sleeping in parks, on benches, and in plazas. With shelters at high capacities, these locations are unfortunately the only options for the homeless, and this executive order will leave them without a place to go.
In the state of Tennessee, felons cannot vote, thus banning these protestors from voting after they camped out to seek change in their government. Protesting is an expression of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and this executive order undermines the intentions of the protesters by finding a way to suppress their freedom to elect new leaders. In a country that is free, actions like this should make Americans fearful.