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Black Tennessee Lawmakers Expelled for Gun Violence Demonstration Despite Broad Support

Tennessee State Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson call or gun reform in wake of Nashville school shooting

Tennessee GOP lawmakers on Thursday, April 6, voted to expel two Black House of representative members for “unacceptable” demonstrations n the floor of the house when they demanded that colleagues take action against gun violence in the wake of another tragic school shooting, this time at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee killing six people including three nine-year old children.

Resolutions were filed on Monday, seeking the expulsion of Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Justin Pearson of Memphis and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, each of whom had already been removed from their committee assignments after last week’s demonstrations. The resolutions were filed by Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso and Andrew Farmer. Only Rep. Gloria Johnson was spared expulsion, by a narrow margin just one vote shy of expulsion. Following the proceedings Johnson, a White legislator stated that she believed she was able to escape a similar fate “because it may have something to with the color of my skin.” Both Jones and Pearson are young Black men.

In a series of tweets Monday, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton called the Democratic lawmakers’ actions “unacceptable,” adding they broke “several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor.”

All three lawmakers participated in protests on Thursday, March 31 of last week by using a bullhorn on the House floor to implore their colleagues to do more than pay lip service to the issue of gun violence in schools and take definitive action to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

The move compelled residents to take the battle on gun violence to the steps of the state capital.

On Thursday, April 6, Protestors entered the Tennessee statehouse to disrupt the proceedings against the three legislators and demand that the state focus instead on the six dead killed by a 28-year-old shooter was armed with three guns and fired 152 rounds during the attack.

“There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary,” said Rep. Jones in a tweet. “We occupied the House floor … after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings,” according to CNN.

“If this House decides to expel me for exercising our sacred first amendment right to help elevate the voices in our community who want to see us act to prevent gun violence, then do as you feel you must,” Pearson concluded.

House Democrats expressed solidarity with the trio in a statement Monday, saying the caucus stood “firmly united” with them.

“The Democratic Caucus has unanimously, formally voted to oppose the baseless resolutions for expulsion and will zealously oppose them should they come up for a vote on the House floor,” the statement said.

Efforts to expel the three House members are “morally bankrupt,” the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators said in a statement Tuesday.

“The political retribution is unconstitutional,” caucus chairman and Democratic Rep. Sam McKenzie said in the statement. “We fundamentally object to any effort to expel members for making their voices heard to end gun violence.”

The House speaker should be leading bipartisan discussions to “generate reforms that could stop the next school shooting,” McKenzie added.

“Instead he’s using his power to silence people who are calling for solutions that he opposes,” he said.

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