Confederate statue protests turn into cyber bullying

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The debate over Confederate statues has made it all the way to Nashville, but another battle is brewing on social media.

"Since I have started being outspoken about activism and social justice, I have gotten threats or comments throughout the last two or three years,"

Tami Sawyer is a local activist on the fore front of removing Confederate statues from Memphis parks, and she has felt the fire firsthand. It all started after the bridge protest and then again after the Charlottesville protests.

"That's when they got really, really dreadful comments. My phone number was leaked. Phone calls to my phone," said Sawyer.

After becoming the face of the Confederate statue movement, she started getting angry and hostile messages on her social media account.

"Called the "n" word. Called the "b" word. References to my weight. References to my skin color. Threatened to be thrown in the Mississippi. Told to watch my back," said Sawyer recalling just some of the messages she has received.

She showed us posts she said came to her social media accounts. One called her a "worthless, stupid b****" and claimed she is "a drain on society". The message ended with a threat that her "day of reckoning is coming."

Another threatened to go to her employer, saying 'they would want to know the kind of agitating racist their employee is, but then you probably don't work anywhere and are simply a leech on society."

One went as far as telling her to "do the world a favor and see what it smells like underwater."

Another labeled her a "left field troll."

"Yeah. I think it is definitely cyber bullying," she told WREG's April Thompson.

"It's cyber bullying, but it's just a juvenile way of handling things and is not expected of someone who is a mature adult," said Lee Millar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

On the other side of the debate,  Millar said he hasn't felt the personal attacks and he doesn't condone them.

"I have not seen any of it. I would certainly condemn any personal attacks on anybody on either side," said Millar.

"It's whether or not history should stay or not. I would be against attacking anybody personally on this. People can have a matter of opinions — they should be entitled to that. Speak your opinions and speak the truth I would expect, but not to attack somebody personally. It should be a mature discussion and debate. No character assassination or anything like that. That doesn't help anything at all," he added.

We reached out to the people associated with the media accounts linked to the derogatory comments about Sawyer and requested an interview. One person who called us back admitted he didn't know Sawyer and couldn't remember what prompted him to write the posts.

But he stood by the comments, telling us Facebook is fake, but those statues are real. He once again said Sawyer is a drain on society and her day of reckoning is coming before accused us of being biased, fake news and not going after what Sawyer said to prompt his reaction.

He even told April Thompson her day of reckoning was coming too and then he hung up.

We asked Sawyer what she may have posted that led to the comments. She said she didn't know the man who went after her on Facebook nor did she say anything to him. She said he was responding to articles and comments she posted about the statues needing to come down.

"A lot of people are using their online personae or online profiles to hide behind the screen and write these really disgusting things," said Sawyer.

She said all the threats made her concerned for her safety and that of her family and friends, but she plans to stand firm in her cause.

"You keep it on the intellectual level, and those on the other side, I expect them if they could to do it as well," said Millar.

"I don't attack anybody personally or talk badly about them on social media. I talk about issues,"said Sawyer. "I look at these people and I remember that the fight is not easy. Sometimes you will find yourself on the defense or alone. "

We talked to the District Attorney's office who said cyber bullying could fall under harassment and stalking. It is a misdemeanor, though it could become a felony in certain circumstances and you could face jail time.

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