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Lawmakers Clash On Tennessee House Floor Over Resolution Memorializing Teenager

After a contentious vote on a memorial resolution, a group of demonstrators were forcefully removed from the House's gallery Tuesday.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
After a contentious vote on a memorial resolution, a group of demonstrators were forcefully removed from the House's gallery Tuesday.

Ashanti Nikole Posey — that was the name of the teenager whom a group of Tennessee representatives were trying to memorialize Tuesday night.

Posey was a talented basketball player, a senior at Hillsboro High School this spring and an active member of her high school community. She volunteered for the school’s recycling drop-off and started a support group for LGBTQ students at Maplewood High School. She planned to attend Western Kentucky University in the fall to pursue a degree in business.

But after the joint resolution passed unanimously in the Senate, it faced a wall on the House floor, when Majority Leader William Lamberth said he couldn’t vote in favor of the measure.

“I did some research and looked up exactly what led to this young lady’s untimely demise,” Lamberth said on the floor. “Due to the behavior and, I would say, choices that she was involved in at the time, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of this.”

According to Metro Nashville Police Department, Posey was killed after being involved in a “small marijuana sale.”

As majority leader, Lamberth’s comments have a significant influence over the rest of the Republican supermajority. The final vote on the measure was 45 to 1. Thirty-nine members were present but not voting, making the bill fail for not reaching the 50 votes needed for a constitutional majority.

On Wednesday morning, Ashanti Posey’s mother issued a statement praising the value and characteristics of her daughter.

“We are so proud of the life that Ashanti lived – one that was filled with kindness, hard work and generosity,” Amber Posey said. “Her memory deserves only the highest honors.”

But the vote left a tense situation on the House floor. Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, shouted an expletive, then left the chamber after being threatened to be removed.

“Lamberth stood up there and painted this deceased 17-year-old in a public forum as a guilty party to a crime that she has never ever been tried for and that girl is dead,” Parkinson told reporters. “The girl’s parents are watching this!”

Parkinson slammed Lamberth’s previous use of the phrase that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

“People are dead because they’ve been painted guilty, and shot and executed on the f—ing streets because they were painted guilty before they got a trial,” Parkinson said.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, was the sponsor of the measure in the Senate. In a tweet Tuesday night, he said the measure was meant to give some comfort to Posey’s family.

“It’s just basic human decency to mourn with families who lose children,” Yarbro said. “But Ashanti in particular deserved better than what she received on the House floor tonight.”

But the exchange between lawmakers was one of many moments during an intense day on Capitol Hill.

GOP leader @WilliamLamberth refused to vote on a SJR that was adopted by senate unanimously that honored a teenage girl killed.

Rep. @TNRepParkinson can be heard saying "bullshit!" #tnleg pic.twitter.com/XZhaAEUHLJ

— Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (@SergioMarBel) June 16, 2020

Minutes after the House defeated the resolution, a group of demonstrators were forcefully removed from the chamber’s gallery.

They had been clapping at what Parkinson was saying.

Three people were handcuffed. They were charged with resisting arrest and disrupting a meeting or procession, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Activist organizer Justin Jones was among those charged, including an additional count of assault.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. on June 17 with a statement from Amber Posey.

Copyright 2020 WPLN News

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.