Moral Low Ground

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‘The Moral High Ground’: Tennessee Judge Tom Nelson Rejects Governor’s Orders to Crack Down on Peaceful ‘Occupy Nashville’ Demonstrators; Releases 29 Protesters

A Tennessee magistrate has become something of a hero to the ‘Occupy’ movement after releasing 29 wrongfully arrested demonstrators from jail and refusing orders from the state governor to crack down on the ongoing protests.

The Associated Press reports that Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, has twice dispatched state troopers to arrest peaceful ‘Occupy Nashville’ protesters. But both times, the local official in charge of determining whether or not a crime has been committed has set the demonstrators free.

His name is Tom Nelson, and he is a Davidson County Night Court Magistrate. It’s a rare occasion when a magistrate refuses to sign off on an arrest warrant. But “the magistrate’s position is sort of a safety valve to prevent overzealous officers from putting people in jail for no reason,” Nashville Attorney Jill Todd told the AP, and that seems like exactly what Nelson is doing.

“It’s not every day you get to see a night court magistrate smack down the governor of Tennessee,” a legal observer told the Nashville Scene outside the Metro Courthouse after Nelson’s action.

The protesters were arrested because they were violating a newly-instituted 10PM curfew in Legislative Plaza, where many of them had been camped out for the past three weeks as part of the worldwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests against corporate greed and socioeconomic inequality.

“I have reviewed the regulations of the state of Tennessee, and I can find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza,” Judge Nelson told a state trooper as he ordered the arrestees released. Basking in their victory, protesters chanted “This is how democracy works!” as they triumphantly returned to Legislative Plaza.

According to The Tennessean, Neslon explained his decision not to sign criminal trespass warrants against the occupiers in an email to Davidson County judges:

“It is of particular consternation that the rules and curfew were enacted after a protest movement and occupation of Legislative Plaza had been tolerated for just over 3 weeks, with no notice that the group members were involved in criminal activity,” he wrote, noting that “until the new rules and regulations were promulgated there was no crime of Criminal Trespass pertaining to this group of persons for the past 3 weeks.’’

Nelson said that the protesters were denied a “reasonable opportunity” to apply for the necessary permission to remain in the plaza. “Fourteen hours is woefully inadequate time within which to allow the group an opportunity to comply with the newly enacted rules, regulations, curfew and permit requirements,’’ he wrote.

A similar situation unfolded last week in Albany, New York, where police defied orders from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Gerald Jennings to arrest ‘Occupy’ demonstrators.

Contrast that with Oakland, California, where police from various jurisdictions participated in a brutal attack on ‘Occupy’ protesters that left numerous demonstrators injured, including U.S. Marine Corp veteran Scott Olsen, whose skull was fractured when he was shot at close range by a ‘non-lethal’ police projectile.

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One Comment

  1. Janene GaruffaloeNovember 1, 2011 at 3:48 amReply

    2 words. Activist. Judge.

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