The US Republican-dominated Tennessee House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to punish the city of Memphis for removing Confederate monuments by taking US$250,000 away from the city that would have been used for a bicentennial celebration next year.
The retaliation came in the form of passage of a last-minute amendment attached to the House appropriations bill that triggered heated debate on the House floor and stinging rebukes from lawmakers from Memphis.
Tennessee Representative Antonio Parkinson began to call the amendment vile and racist before being cut off by boos from fellow lawmakers.
“You can boo all you want, but let’s call it for what it is,” he said.
Majority-black Memphis was last year able to find a legal loophole to get rid of two Confederate statues and a bust by selling city parks to a nonprofit, which swiftly removed the monuments.
Taken away under cover of darkness were statues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Forrest was a general in the confederacy, a slave owner and a leader in the Ku Klux Klan.
A bust of a Confederate soldier was also removed.
Parkinson, who is African-American, said he was sick of how fellow lawmakers revered Forrest “as if he was God, as if he was an idol.”
“You remove money from a city because we removed your god from our grounds,” Parkinson said.
A Republican lawmaker who grew up in Memphis told fellow lawmakers that he loved the city, but this was about obeying at least the spirit of a law to protect historical monuments.
“And the law was very clear, and they got smart lawyers to figure out how to wiggle around the law, and I think that’s what the issue is,” Tennessee Representative Gerald McCormick said.
The amendment that stripped the money away from Memphis was sponsored by Tennessee Representative Matthew Hill, a Republican from Jonesborough.
Republican Tennessee Representative Andy Holt said removing the monuments was erasing history — “That’s what ISIS does,” referring to the Islamic State group by one of its many acronyms — and it was a bad action that deserved punishment.
“Today is a demonstration that bad actions have bad consequences, and my only regret about this is it’s not in the tune of millions of dollars,” Holt said.
Another Memphis Democrat called the move to take away the money unchristian, hateful and unkind, saying that she was tired of lawmakers treating her city as if it was not part of the state.
“I know some of you all would be happy if we gave the doggone part of the state to Arkansas,” Tennessee Representative Raumesh Akbari said. “Arkansas would gladly take us, but I’ll tell you something: I don’t support this, and I think if you do it you’re being ugly. It’s not fair. Memphis is a part of Tennessee. I didn’t even realize how much y’all disliked Memphis till I got to this legislature.”
The amendment passed along with the US$37.5 million budget.
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