By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Renowned immigration attorney Elliott Ozment, a passionate civil rights advocate, died last week at 71. Davidson County’s beloved character with exceptional character was laid to rest Saturday.
“Elliott dedicated his life to championing human rights,” ACLU- TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said. “As a tireless advocate, he repeatedly confronted and challenged government abuses of immigrants’ basic rights and abridgment of their freedoms. Elliott embraced the fight for justice and equality with courage and joy. His tenacity, heart and eternal optimism always inspired me and I will miss him.”
Asked last year for advice to Tribune readers, Ozment said, “Be very alert to the violations of civil rights of immigrants. If their rights can be taken, all the rights established by the greats — Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King and John Lewis — could be lost tomorrow with this administration.”
During a visit here, the President was targeted by Ozment’s Murfreesboro Pike office reader-board: “Make Nashville great again. Please leave soon.” In August 2017, Ozment denounced the quality of 45’s cabinet, citing Attorney General Jeff Sessions partly for saying, “‘I used to like the KKK before I found out they smoked pot.’”
Council member Fabian Bedne admires Ozment and his office “museum” of objects related to the Constitution. “It is an amazing way to see, firsthand, things that shaped America … letters going back hundreds of years.” It includes a first edition of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” and a Florida voting booth from the time of hanging chads. Bedne visited with daughter Olivia when she was 18. Ozment was a role model for Bedne, originally of Argentina. While a state lawmaker, Ozment “had to decide if he would vote his conscience and maybe lose an election, or just try to get reelected without voting for what he thought was right. He voted against the death penalty knowing it would probably end his career,” Bedne said. “That’s how I want to be.”
The Vanderbilt Law School graduate was a Church of Christ minister.
He “knew right from wrong, and used his sensitive moral compass to make the world a better place,” U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said. “He was a terrific attorney and a tireless advocate for Nashville’s immigrant community. Future leaders would be wise to study Elliott’s words, actions and powerful impact on our city.”
Ozment challenged Nashville’s detention of immigrants who committed no crime. He criticized Police Chief Ronal Serpas for “driving while Hispanic” arrests leading to deportation. Nashville isn’t a “sanctuary city;” words used by lawmakers who don’t know that law. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are called sanctuaries, but don’t protect criminals.
“A lot of this talk is just scare talk by a bunch of ignoramus people in the legislature,” Ozment said.
He supported candidates, including Craig Fitzhugh’s bid for governor. “He approached me, had a fundraiser in his office and put me on his famous billboard,” said Fitzhugh, now on Karl Dean’s team. “I got to know him pretty well. We’ll miss him. He gave me some good advise. He was a special kind of guy.”