Democrat John DeBerry speaks out against violent riots: 'What kind of people have we become?'

'Peaceful protests end peacefully. Anarchy ends in chaos.'

Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry speaks on April 7, 2014.
Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry speaks on April 7, 2014. | Wikimedia Commons/Sean Braisted

A speech given by a black Democratic representative in the Tennessee state Legislature has gone viral, with many hailing its civil rights-era moral clarity.

In remarks given on the floor of the Tennessee House on Aug. 1, Rep. John DeBerry, a Memphis-area Democrat who was forced off his party's ballot earlier this year, excoriated the tactics of those who are rioting, looting, and burning down businesses in major U.S. cities that has led to more than 30 deaths. DeBerry called upon his fellow legislators to remember the manner in which civil rights activists of decades past conducted themselves.

"What the world could see in them was the lie that was being told about them," he said of their efforts for justice.

The politician continued that he is one such man who walked into public places through back doors, sat in the back of the bus, drank out of the "colored" water fountain, and attended a racially segregated school because the law forced him to. The civil rights campaigners changed the world, he stressed, because they had courage and integrity, did not beg for citizenship but demanded it.

"How did they do it? They did it by standing like men and women of integrity and class, and common sense and values. When the riots started and folks started burning stuff down, that's when my father took my arm and we left. We left because that was not what we were there for. That was not what Dr. King was there for. That is not what others who were famous in the civil rights days were there for," he said.

DeBerry recounted that his family raised money to send his father to Washington, D.C., where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech wherein he said he longed for the day when his children would be judged not by their skin color but the content of their character.

"All we do in America right now is talk about color," he said, exasperated.

"Every issue is about race, it's about color, instead of sitting down at the table like men and women of common sense and common justice and understanding that our enemies are looking with a greedy vigilance upon us as we tear ourselves apart internally. They have been watching us for 50 years preparing step by step by step for us to kill ourselves."

Deberry, 69, was "blindsided" earlier this year when state party officials removed him from the House District 90 primary ballot because of his voting record. DeBerry frequently sides with Republicans on issues such as school choice and abortion.

"The people in my district did not take me off the ballot," DeBerry said at the time.

"A tribunal took me off the ballot that has absolutely nothing to do with my district."

"My views have always been conservative. The people in my district know this. And even though I've had opponents who have hammered me over and over about my stance on abortion, about my stance on the family, and my stance on education, [voters] have overwhelmingly elected me 13 times."

DeBerry's speech was circulated on social media, with many thought leaders whose views span the political spectrum praising it for its tone and content.

The Memphis representative noted during his remarks that he might not be serving in the state legislature next year but he nevertheless stands for his father's legacy.

"If we don't start standing for something, don't you know that the people who are looking at what's happening in Washington and Detroit and Portland and Seattle, they're getting emboldened because we act like a bunch of punks, too frightened to stand up and protect our own stuff," he said.

"What kind of a people have we become?" he said, incredulous that it was being said that people have a right to destroy taxpayer-funded property.

He emphasized: "Peaceful protest ends peacefully. Anarchy ends in chaos. And what we see happening right now, any of us with common sense, any common sense whatsoever, know that what we see is not peaceful. So we can continue to fool ourselves and mix with words and use rhetoric and public relations in order to frost this stuff over and put a nice picture on what we see that is frightening."

DeBerry's nephew is a policeman who recently told him about how he was attacked by rioters.

"You're telling me that somebody has the right to throw feces and urine in the face of those that we, as taxpayers, pay to protect us? That's OK? What has happened to us?" Deberry said, incredulous.

"If we don't get this right, right now, I've got grandchildren. I don't want to see the country we're going to have five, 10, 15, 20 years from now," he concluded, receiving loud applause.

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