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Tennessee activist charged in traffic cone toss into truck

June 24, 2021 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee prosecutor has filed charges of reckless endangerment against a Black protester accused of throwing a traffic cone into the driver’s side window of a pickup truck in downtown Nashville last summer during a protest against racial injustice.

Court records show Justin Jones was arrested on the charges stemming from the June 2020 protest in which officials said Jones and other demonstrators blocked vehicles near the state Capitol. Jones said on Twitter that the truck driver was “making threats” and “yelling racial slurs and pushing his car into protesters.”

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk’s office released security footage of the incident Wednesday, saying he notified Jones’ attorney and shared the video with him two weeks ago. Jones faces a grand jury indictment filed last week. He posted on social media Wednesday that he turned himself in, and has questioned why it took a year for charges to be filed.

Funk’s office said in the statement that “This office does not intend to prosecute peaceful protestors.” Jones, meanwhile, called the charges “retaliation” that “serves as a dramatic and sure confirmation that our struggle is effective.”

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From a high angle and without sound, the video shows a person identified by prosecutors as Jones and a half-dozen other demonstrators standing in the street. Jones put the traffic cone in front of the truck and another protester appeared to talk through a megaphone to the truck’s driver, according to the footage. Nearby, another car rolls into a different protester, who falls to the ground and walks off shortly after with another’s help.

Jones and another protester talked with the truck driver, who proceeded to drive over the traffic cone. According to the video, the person identified by prosecutors as Jones then picked it up and poked it through the window before tossing it into the window as the truck drove away. The cone bounced out of the cabin and back into the street.

Jones tweeted Wednesday that protesters have the right to “challenge an entrenched white power structure in its variety of forms from the State Capitol to the District Attorney’s Office.” The 25-year-old activist has been arrested various times during largely peaceful protests throughout the years. He said he now faces 14 charges.

“They will try to push a false narrative portraying me as ‘violent’ as a way to deflect from their own actions,” Jones tweeted. “They will suggest that I am out of order. That is their strategy. However, I’m hopeful for the chance to present our evidence in a transparent manner.”

Last August, Jones’ group was targeted when lawmakers made it a felony for illegally camping on state property. At the time, activists had been staying across the street from the Capitol for weeks, demanding meetings with top GOP leaders, particularly Gov. Bill Lee, to discuss police reform. Republican lawmakers had grown increasingly irritated at protesters who blocked their parking garage.

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Nashville police announced arrest warrants last summer for Jones and another activist on riot charges, stating the pair walked on a police cruiser during a protest, damaging it. Three hours after the announcement, police recalled the warrants after reviewing “additional information” received by them and Funk.

In another high-profile incident, Jones and another protester were arrested in February 2019 upon being accused of throwing a cup of liquid at ex-House Speaker Glen Casada and other lawmakers while protesting the bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the Ku Klux Klan’s early leaders, inside the Capitol.

The case was resolved under an agreement barring Jones from contacting those lawmakers and visiting the legislative building until April 22, 2020. A ban on entering the state Capitol that was also in his bond conditions was lifted under the resolution.