'We Act Like a Bunch of Punks:' Black Tennessee Lawmaker Shames Rioters, Invokes Family Legacy of Peaceful Protest

John Deberry, April 7, 2014.
(Sean Braisted via Wikimedia)

Tennessee State Representative John Deberry, a Democrat from Memphis, tore into rioters and demonstrators in Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere in the U.S. in a blistering speech to the Tennessee House earlier this month.

Deberry spoke as lawmakers debated a law on August 12 to increase penalties for demonstrators suspected of certain violent offenses against police officers, including throwing bodily excrement at officers. Deberry, who is African American, repeatedly referenced his family’s participation in the civil rights activism of the mid-twentieth century to draw a contrast between that movement and current demonstrations.

“People who are looking at what’s happening in Washington, in Detroit, in Portland and Seattle–they’re getting emboldened because we act like a bunch of punks, too frightened to stand up and protect our own stuff,” Deberry said. “You’re telling me that someone got the right to tear down property that Tennessee taxpayers paid for? That American taxpayers paid for? And somebody has the right to destroy it, deface it, and tear it down? What kind of people have we become that we can’t protect our own stuff?!”

Deberry continued to lash out at rioters: “Peaceful protest ends peacefully. Anarchy ends in chaos. What we see happening right now, any of us with any common sense–any common sense whatsoever–know that what we see is not peaceful. So we can continue to fool ourselves and mix with words and use rhetoric in order to frost this stuff over, and put a nice picture on what we see is frightening.”

“If we don’t get this right, right now, I’ve got grandchildren–I don’t want to see the country we’re going to have five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, if we don’t start acting like we got some guts,” Deberry finished. Lawmakers gave Deberry a standing ovation for the speech.

Deberry has served his district for 26 years, but was ousted from the Democratic ticket by the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee in May. The Committee took issue with Deberry’s voting record, due to his alignment with Republicans on issues including abortion and school choice. Deberry is now running for reelection as an independent.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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