Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee warned people making plans to erect autonomous zones that they “will not be tolerated” as Seattle officials continued refraining from taking action against the zone there.
“We encourage Tennesseans to exercise their First Amendment rights and have seen many examples of peaceful protests across our state in recent weeks. As demonstrations continue, we will continue to protect Tennesseans’ right to peaceful assembly, while also reassuring citizens that lawlessness, autonomous zones, and violence will not be tolerated,” Lee, a Republican, said in a statement Friday.
The state law that prohibits camping on state property not designated as a campground area will be enforced, he added.
A group of around 50 activists gathered outside the state Capitol in Nashville around 5 p.m. and were not told to leave by 10 p.m., according to The Tennessean. A local reporter said the group was still there as of midnight.
The group brought chairs, tables, and tents in a bid to claim space as a new autonomous zone. They dubbed the area the Ida B. Wells Plaza, referring to an investigative journalist and civil rights leader who died in 1931.
Activists want to defund the Metro Nashville Police Department and are calling for the firing of Police Chief Steve Anderson.
Lee’s office didn’t immediately respond when asked whether he would direct local authorities to take action against the group. A Nashville police spokesman didn’t respond when asked whether officers planned to remove the group.
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, said he supports Lee’s posture, saying in a statement that he supports peaceful assembly but that there’s a difference between that “and lawlessness or unlawful camping, occupying, and autonomous zones on state property”
“The House is fully prepared to enhance this type of lawlessness to a felony before the 2020 legislative session concludes next week,” he added.
A different group tried creating an autonomous zone in Asheville, North Carolina on Friday night, but police officers responded and tore down barricades. Several people identifying themselves as activists and part of the group said they plan to try again.
Activists in Portland who tried setting up their own zone abandoned it this week.
An autonomous zone set up by activists in Seattle, in Washington state, includes barricades and checkpoints. Activists released a lengthy list of demands that include abolishing the Seattle Police Department, the release of any prisoner serving time for resisting arrest, and an end to qualified immunity for police officers.