Anger, frustration and chaos erupted on the Tennessee House floor Tuesday evening, prompting the arrest of activists as Democratic legislators watched in dismay their Republican peers decline to pass a resolution memorializing a 17-year-old Black girl shot and killed in Nashville.
“I don’t have the words,” a stunned Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said sitting on a desk in a nearly empty House chamber afterward.
Love had presented a resolution to honor Ashanti Posey — a teen preparing to graduate from Hillsboro High School who was fatally shot in Nashville in April — a memorial that unanimously passed the Senate last week.
Posey was set to attend Western Kentucky University this fall, worked two jobs and played AAU basketball, the resolution stated.
Hundreds of similar memorials and resolutions are passed each session, rarely with resistance, regardless of the party of the sponsor.
But House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, rose just before the vote to announce he would not support the resolution, thus swaying the majority of the 73-member Republican caucus against the measure.
Lamberth announced he had done “research” on “what exactly led to this young lady’s untimely demise.”
News reports on Posey’s killing note that police reported she and another girl had allegedly been involved in the sale of a small amount of marijuana before someone opened fire on their vehicle, killing her.
“I do feel in my heart that I wish I could support this resolution, but I simply cannot, given the activity she was involved with that led to her demise,” Lamberth said, not mentioning any specific actions. “To applaud that individual on the House floor, I simply cannot support this.”
The resolution failed to pass, gaining 45 yes votes, less than the required 50, while 39 members voted “present.”
Nine other members who were attending session and were not excused Tuesday did not cast votes at all.
On Wednesday in the Senate, Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, who brought the resolution, stood to say he was grieved over the additional pain her family was now experiencing.
“There was no political agenda in running it,” Yarbro said. “A family friend told me that someone had lost a child. And I did what any one of us would do in that circumstance. I put in a resolution to memorialize the loss life and hopefully provide some small comfort to that family.”
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally then called for the chamber to stand for a moment of silence, followed by a prayer led by Yarbro. Yarbro later introduced a Senate-only resolution honoring her, and Senators passed it on a voice vote before adjourning early Friday.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, began shouting “bullshit” and expletives on the floor after the vote Tuesday, prompting Justin Jones and several other activists seated in the gallery to clap and chant “Black lives matter.”
As the commotion continued, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, ordered Jones and others in his group to be removed. State troopers handcuffed Jones and two other demonstrators.
According to Tennessee Highway Patrol, Jones, 24, of Nashville, was charged with disrupting a meeting or procession, resisting arrest and assault. The agency did not elaborate on the charges.
According to court records, Jones was held under a $1,000 bond.
A 22-year-old woman from Nashville and 31-year-old man from Dickson were each charged with disrupting a meeting and resisting arrest.
Jones had returned earlier in the day Tuesday to the Capitol for the first time since February 2019, when he was charged with assault for throwing a drink at former House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and banned from returning until the case was resolved.
It’s unclear whether Jones will again be barred from entering the Capitol.
“Lamberth stood up there and painted this deceased 17-year-old in a public forum as a guilty party to a crime that she’s never even been tried for,” Parkinson said in an expletive-laden appeal outside the chamber afterward. “And the girl is dead. The girl’s parents are watching this.”
As Sexton told House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, to get control of Parkinson as he continued expressing anger on the floor, Stewart said he could not restrain an elected member.
“That’s the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen on this floor,” Stewart said. “Honoring a young woman who died, that is the most astonishing, outrageous vote I’ve ever seen on this House floor in over a decade.”
After the session, Love and a couple other members of the Black Caucus approached Sexton to discuss what unfolded.
Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, said they asked that Sexton intervene to ensure that legislators leave town later this week “with some sort of accord” instead of with the friction that has played out between Republicans and Democrats the last couple weeks as Black members attempted to call out racism.
Holt Whitt, Sexton’s chief of staff, confirmed that it was discussed, but said nothing has yet been planned.
“If we are battling each other in such a slanted, angry way, what are our people going to do?” Staples said in an interview after session, referring to how lawmakers should be modeling unity and progress to the rest of the country.
While Lamberth voted “present,” Sexton and House GOP Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, were among a handful of Republican members who voted in support of the resolution.
Reach Natalie Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.
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Published 10:44 AM EDT Jun 19, 2020