Vanderbilt seminarian Justin Jones, a Fisk graduate, protests Trumpcare, a law to partially repeal Obamacare. Vanderbilt photo

By Clint Confehr 

NASHVILLE, TN — A Vanderbilt seminarian’s arrest and removal from a recent Tennessee Republican rally was sinful, his divinity school advisor says, connecting sin to his attorney’s point. That black man wasn’t welcome.

Not so, says Tennessee Republican Party Communications Director Candice Dawkins. “There were people of color in the audience who were not protesting. They were there in support of the Republican Party, Marsha Blackburn and Lyndsey Graham.

“We know he protests Republicans,” says Dawkins. “He’s done it on numerous occasions. That’s why he was asked to leave … this was a rally in support of Marsha Blackburn.”

Seminarian Justin Jones’ advisor, Dr. Phillis Shepherd, was asked for her theological view of the Oct. 28 events at CabaRay Showroom, 5724 River Road. Jones was admitted, asked to leave, handcuffed by police, and taken to night court Magistrate Carolyn Piphus. Without probable cause, Piphus dismissed the case.

“When power — whether it’s governmental power, political power or the power that comes with position — is exploited and used to silence people; that really falls in the category of sin,” Professor Shepherd says.

The GOP took a proactive step, Dawkins agrees. Instead of waiting for Jones to protest, a security serviceman asked to speak with Jones outside. He refused. He says police arrived in 30 minutes during which he stood for the national anthem, prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. She says he disrupted the event when state GOP Chairman Scott Golden was speaking. He says nobody was speaking on stage when he was cuffed. Four videos obtained by the Tribune don’t resolve conflict between alleged protest before and reaction after arrest.

Jones is due in court Nov. 19 because, when Jones left court that Sunday evening, Officer Alexander D. Donald issued a citation alleging trespassing at CabaRay.

Jones anticipates the citation will be nullified. He faces Sessions Court Judge Melissa Blackburn later on that charge and resisting arrest.

Jurists may consider whether the rally was a public, quasi-public, or private event.

To attend, Jones registered on a web site, was admitted after his name was found on a list, and he was given a Blackburn sticker, he says. Dawkins says, “He was not registered as as an attendee, but he was allowed to enter the event. He was recognized, though, as a regular protester at Republican events.”

“You should be consistent,” says the Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes, dean of the Vanderbilt

Justin Jones “practiced nonviolent disobedience and they roughed him up [for] … doing what we hope our students always do,”Vanderbilt Divinity School Dean the
Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes says. “If you disagree with
something that you think is unjust, you find peaceful ways to protest it.” Vanderbilt photo
Divinity School. “If an individual followed the rules and got the clearance they needed, and if they disrupt, that’s up to the powers that be as to whether or not they need to remain.”

“The get-out-the-vote rally,” Jones says, “was advertised on Facebook, on twitter and they sent out emails about it to invite people.”

Dawkins says, “We checked our list after the fact and did not see him as someone who RSVP’d.” If not, Jones says, he wouldn’t have been admitted.

On Facebook Jones reacts to President Trump at Blackburn’s Chattanooga rally: “Their vision of fearful division is not the vision of light of the saints and ancestors who we honor” on All Saints Sunday. Dawkins says Jones protested at Gov. Haslam’s office. Jones advocates Medicare expansion.

“The challenge,” Professor Shepherd says, “is around health care, equal access to education, challenges from separating children from parents, and inability to engage in civil discourse.” Challenges “won’t disappear without all of us speaking up.”

Jones’ lawyer, Nick Leonardo says, “We still have work to do as it relates to race relations … Mr. Jones was present at the rally to simply hear how the issues … being discussed affect people of color … [He]… was … forcibly removed from the premises because, as a young person of color, he was not welcome at the rally.

“Jones is an outstanding young man, scholar and advocate for the equal treatment of all people and looks forward to his day in court,” his lawyer said.

Videos from Justin Jones’s friends:

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...