State Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge wants student group punished for protesting

Associated Press

Friday, March 18, 2011

NASHVILLE - Republican state Sen. Randy McNally on Thursday urged the University of Memphis to take action against a student group that he said was involved in protests at the Capitol this week that resulted in seven arrests.

McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the protests were worse than when anti-income tax protesters threw rocks through Capitol windows and banged on the doors of the chamber a decade ago. This week, protesters opposing anti-union bills like the one to strip teachers' collective bargaining rights chanted accusations of "union busting" by legislators and refused to leave a committee hearing.

Seven protesters were charged with misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after the disruption, which lasted about half an hour.

"I've been down here a fairly long period of time," McNally said on the Senate floor, "and I've never seen a situation like that."

Democrats were quick to criticize McNally's statements.

"This is still America, people have the right to protest," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. "We've not taken that right away yet, however it feels sometimes we're heading down that road."

McNally said several of the pro-labor protesters were affiliated with the Progressive Student Alliance group registered at the University of Memphis. He said the school should kick the group off campus and consider expelling those involved.

"I would hope the university takes action," McNally said. "I know if it was a fraternity that did something like that, they'd be off campus in a heartbeat"

A spokesman for the University of Memphis did not immediately have any information on how many of those arrested were currently enrolled at the school, or whether students can be expelled for misdemeanor offenses. A campus adviser for the group referred questions to the university.

Democratic Sen. Thelma Harper of Nashville was critical of McNally's call for disciplining the protesters.

"Let's be careful how quickly we suggest that our young people be punished," she said. "Because really, they were loud, but it was an orderly protest."

Harper, who is black, said she doesn't want to see a repeat of the civil-rights era in the 1960s, when students were expelled from state schools because of their participation in protests.

"It may not have been proper protocol, but I hope we will look back and see the bridge that brought some of us over," she said. "It was exercises, just like those young people did the other day."



Oak Ridge state senator calls for University of Memphis to discipline protesters

Richard Locker, Commercial Appeal

Thursday, March 17, 2011

NASHVILLE – A state senator today said in a brief Senate floor speech that the University of Memphis should “take action” against student protesters who disrupted and were dragged out of a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Seven people who shouted and chanted in protest of several bills aimed at curtailing collective bargaining and labor unions, refused to leave the hearing room, locked arms and dropped to the floor. They were later forcibly removed by state troopers and charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Six of seven are from Memphis and were identified by protest organizers as members of the U of M Progressive Student Alliance. University officials have not immediately responded to requests for details but the student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, reported that two of those arrested are currently U of M students and two others are Memphis College of Art students.

Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, a U of M graduate, rose on the Senate floor near the conclusion of today’s session and commended his colleague, Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and law enforcement officers for their handling of the protest.

“I’ve been down here a long period of time and have never seen a situation like that,” McNally said. “Now we did have people banging on the Senate door at one time and we did have individuals that threw bottles and rocks at a bus that was carrying some senators to the opening of an auto plant, but never a disruption like this.

“I was also dismayed to learn that six of the individuals were members of a registered student organization at the University of Memphis. It’s the Progressive Student Alliance, and I would hope the university takes action. I know that if it was a fraternity that did something like that, they’d be off campus in a heartbeat,” McNally said.

Asked by reporters later whether he believed students should be expelled from the school, he said, “I know if I did something like that I’d be long gone, when I was there.”

Sens. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, and Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, rose in the protesters' defense and said the school should not punish them.

“I hope the University of Memphis won’t punish these people,” Harper said, citing student civil rights sit-ins in the 1960s that she said opened the door to African-Americans to eat in formerly segregated restaurants.

The state Department of Safety identified those charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest as: Leah Shoaf, 19; James Sledge, 30; Jeffrey Lichtenstein, 25; Ash-Lee Henderson, 25; Paul Warner, 22; Sally Joiner, 26; and Bennett Foster, 25. Protest organizers on Tuesday identified Sledge as Justin rather than James, and Justin Sledge is listed as president of the Progressive Student Alliance at the U of M. All are from Memphis except Henderson, who is from Chattanooga and a member of Chattanooga Organized for Action.

None could be reached for comment today. Jacob Flowers, executive director of the MidSouth Peace & Justice Center of Memphis, said those arrested have been told by their lawyers not to comment. "We didn't organize the action. We were there acting in a support role," Flowers said.

The seven were taken to the Davidson County Jail, booked and released on bond. They are to return to court April 5.

U of M spokesman Robert Eoff would say only that, "in general, students and student organizations are subject to our Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, and violations of the Code are addressed."