On Feb. 21, news broke that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was pictured in a 1980 yearbook photo wearing a Confederate army uniform during an “Old South” fraternity party at Auburn University, where he graduated from in 1981.
Gov. Lee then issued an apology in which he characterized his own actions as “insensitive” and expressed his regret.
An open letter to Gov. Lee:
I’ve lived in the South my entire life, and there may have been no time more embarrassing for me than a few years ago when my Arizonan friend asked why Stone Mountain chose to celebrate Confederate icons. I told him that, while wrong, the standard response given is “to remember history.”
It's wrong because if we did our best “to remember history,” we’d recognize that we’re still grappling with a race problem no soldier wearing gray ever helped solve.
It's time to stop whitewashing history with celebratory monuments and parties that are more like a trophy for some and not a symbol meant for all.
Gov. Lee, your actions were insensitive because of what that uniform represented and what dragging it back out invokes.
It's time for you to recognize the racially charged systems of then and to fix the racially charged systems of now, which Tennessee’s criminal justice system is guilty of on all counts.
It's time you put “states’ rights” to good use.
According to the ACLU Blueprint for Smart Justice, in 2017 black men accounted for 43 percent of the male prison population in Tennessee, but only made up 15 percent of the larger adult male population.
Tennessee doesn't practice equal justice.
Criminal justice reform will make it to your desk. But along the way, you know there will be steps taken to remove the portions and sections of legislation that would go the longest distance in righting the racial injustices committed by our state.
You should see to it that Tennessee fully recognizes the systemic disadvantages that people of color in our legal system face, from inflated and unaffordable bail to a reentry system which penalizes those it never rehabilitated.
You have the power to right Tennessee’s wrongs.
Gov. Lee, if you agree with me about the volume of actions, then I recommend you invest in a very loud pen.