Protesters Corner Tennessee Republicans in Elevator, Charged With Assault

Justin Bautista-Jones being arrested for assault / Twitter Screenshot

Several activists protesting a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general during the Civil War, cornered Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada (R.) and other top Republican leaders in the state legislature in an elevator on Thursday.

The protesters at the state Capitol also shouted insults at Casada, who said he would support adding context to the bust or moving it to a museum if lawmakers support the decision, and some of his Republican colleagues.

The Tennessee Republican Caucus tweeted a video of the incident, showing the protesters calling the Republicans "racists" and accusing them of only letting white people on the elevator. Some of the protesters then singled out Casada by calling him a racist.

As seen near the end of the video, one of the demonstrators threw a coffee cup "with an unknown liquid believed to be coffee" into the elevator, hitting Casada and state Rep. Debra Moody (R.), reported WKRN, a local ABC affiliate. Authorities believe local activist Justin Bautista-Jones, a student at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, threw the cup. Troopers took Bautista-Jones and activist Jeneisha Harris into custody, where Jones was charged with two counts of simple assault and one count of disorderly conduct. Harris was charged with a count of disorderly conduct.

"Let me make something clear. This type of behavior from ‘peaceful protestors' won't be tolerated," Casada tweeted after the incident. "I will not stand for radicals physically & verbally assaulting my members. This behavior has no place or voice here. These folks have been arrested and charged with assault."

Officials say Bautista-Jones and Harris were escorted to another room in the state Capitol for processing after the confrontation and then were transported to a mobile banking office for the Davidson Co. Sheriff's Office. Both suspects were formally charged before a magistrate, WKRN reported.

Casada said that adding historical context to the Confederate bust is a "good thing," referring to Forrest's history as a slave trader prior to the Civil War and being an early Ku Klux Klan leader. Casada's comment came two weeks after Gov. Bill Lee (R.) said he supported putting historical context on the bust, according to the Tennessean.

"We don't need to erase history. We need to add to and put context," Lee said. "The history that we regret, the history that we aren't proud of, those are things that we need to remember so we don't repeat and that we do move forward."

Jones and Harris reacted to their arrests on Twitter later Thursday night.

"I pray that the violence of racism will produce similar outrage in the TN Capitol as a few drops of iced tea in a paper cup," Jones tweeted. "It is insanity to keep pushing a people to the margins, to keep one's foot on their necks and yet expect them to remain calm amidst oppression."

Harris compared herself to U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), who was part of the Civil Rights movement, and said two arrests will not hurt her since Lewis was arrested at least 45 times.

"Today we were arrested for exercising our freedom of speech. My ankles hurt from shackles that the police put on us. My wrists hurt from the handcuffs," Harris tweeted. "But my soul is at ease, knowing that I am fighting for what is right. John Lewis was arrested 45 times. 2 wont hurt me."