NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two individuals were arrested on Thursday amid a protest on the last day of Black History Month demanding the removal of a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early Ku Klux Klan leader.
The demonstration followed a tense news conference with visibly agitated GOP House leadership who threatened to walk out for facing multiple questions from reporters surrounding a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct who has been appointed to head an education committee.
Together the events mark the buildup of a rocky past few weeks that have seen multiple protests and demonstrations, but little change so far from inside the GOP-dominant Statehouse.
Instead, House leaders have remained steadfast in their support of Rep. David Byrd, who faces accusations from three women who say he acted inappropriately with them while they were students and he was their high school basketball coach three decades ago.
Earlier this week, six women were escorted out by state troopers of Byrd’s legislative committee for holding signs and asking the panel questions during a break about the appropriateness of Byrd’s appointment.
Casada’s office ordered the removal of the women. No arrests were made then, but Democratic lawmakers were cut off Thursday on the House floor for raising concerns about limiting the public from attending legislative committees.
And while several top Republicans — including Gov. Bill Lee — have voiced their support of adding some sort of context to the Bedford Forrest bust, there are no current plans to do this session.
Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis before the Civil War. His bust at the state Capitol was unveiled in 1978 and has attracted opposition for years. However, protesters have ticked up their efforts this session under the election of a new governor and new House Speaker Glen Casada.
This all led to Thursday’s chaotic but brief interactions between protesters and state troopers, ending with the arrests of Jeneisha Harris and Justin Jones. The two young black activists have led sit-ins and other protests at the Capitol this year.
Prior to the arrest, a cup of coffee was thrown into an elevator that House Speaker Glen Casada was in. Harris was arrested after ducking beneath a rope blocking off the public from getting close to the bust.
“Take the statue down,” protesters screamed as Harris and Jones were escorted by state troopers out of the Capitol.
A spokesman for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security said information surrounding the arrests and the specific charges filed were not immediately available.
“This type of behavior from ‘peaceful protestors’ won’t be tolerated,” Casada tweeted shortly after the protest concluded. “I will not stand for radicals physically and verbally assaulting my members.”