On Sunday, the two African-American Democrats who were recently expelled from the Tennessee state House said that they had always been a divisive presence in the legislature, even before their actions during a protest following a mass shooting.
Both Justin Jones, who represented the Nashville area, and Justin Pearson, whose district included Memphis, were voted out of the Republican-controlled state house last week for their participation in the protests. Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-CA), a white Democrat who joined the protests, narrowly survived a vote to remove her from office.
Community organizers and social justice advocates, Jones and Pearson have both described themselves as activists since taking office in November and January, respectively. Jones said in response to Chuck Todd of NBC News’s inquiry as to whether or not their activism made them a target,
“I think our presence as young Black voices for our constituencies, people who will not bow down, those who will not be conformed, that’s what put a target on us the day we walked in the Tennessee General Assembly.”
“I mean, this is the first time in Tennessee history we had a completely partisan expulsion by predominantly white caucus — all but one member of their caucus is white out of 75 members — and we are the two youngest Black lawmakers in Tennessee,” he continued.
“And so what we saw was a system of political hubris. This was not just an attack on us, it was an attempt to silence our districts.” Jones and Pearson, in their joint interview, vowed to redouble their efforts to win election and resume serving their constituents.
“We will continue to fight for our constituents,” Jones said. “This attack against us is hurting all people in our state,” he said. “Even though it is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities, this is hurting poor white people. Their attack on democracy hurts all of us.”
NBC News reports that a majority of the Nashville Metro Council intends to vote to restore Jones’ legislative seat. The council is planning to hold a special meeting on Monday to talk about filling his seat temporarily. Pearson is a native Memphian and currently serves as a state representative.
The Washington Post reports that Mickell Lowery, chair of the Shelby County Commission, has said the commission will vote this week on a resolution to reinstate him. There have been allegations that racism played a role in the Republican decision to remove two Black Democrats but leave the white lawmaker who protested with them in office.
The following materials may be helpful for those interested in doing independent research into recent events in California:
- Kamala Harris Talks With Tennessee Lawmakers Who Were Ousted After Protesting a Mass Massacre
- Lawmaker From New Hampshire Is Detained For Impeding A Snowplough
Johnson has stated that she thinks she was able to make it through the voting process because she is a “60-year-old white woman and they are two young Black men.” Bryan Richey, a Republican from Texas’s state legislature who voted to expel Jones but not Pearson or Johnson, denied the claim in an interview with CNN on Friday, saying that the lawmakers’ removal “had nothing to do with race.”
— Republic (@republic) April 7, 2023
“Had nothing to do with the color of their skin,” he said. “I respect all three of them.” Pearson is a local representative for the Memphis area. The Washington Post quotes Mickell Lowery, the chair of the Shelby County Commission, as saying that a resolution to reinstate him will be put to a vote this week.
The Republican decision to remove two Black Democrats but not the white lawmaker who joined the protest has sparked allegations of racial bias. A “60-year-old white woman” and “two young Black men” helped Johnson get through the voting process, she claims.
Bryan Richey, a Republican state representative who voted to expel Jones but not Pearson or Johnson, denied the claim in an interview with CNN on Friday, saying that their removal “had nothing to do with race.” “Had nothing to do with the color of their skin,” he said. “I respect all three of them.”
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