By now, most Americans have heard and seen the callous and malicious manner in which two Tennessee lawmakers were expelled from their house seats on April 6th.
The GOP-controlled Tennessee House voted late Thursday to expel two of the “Tennessee 3.” That trio of Democratic lawmakers had committed the transgression of presiding over protests at the capital — with one wielding a bullhorn — demanding action on guns after the horrific mass shooting in a Nashville school that left six people dead, including three children.
Two of the three Democrats — both young, Black and representing urban areas — were ousted by overwhelmingly white and conservative majorities. The third, a white woman, narrowly survived the vote. Republicans charged them with breaking House rules of conduct.
Justin Jones, representative for Nashville, and Justin Pearson, who represented Memphis, gave rousing speeches in the chamber before the majority-white legislature voted to oust them, leaving tens of thousands of mostly Black and brown Tennessee residents without representation. Due to the vociferous level of outrage, on April 10th, the Nashville Metro Council voted 36–0 to restore Rep Jones. On Wednesday the Shelby County Commission is expected to vote on whether to reappoint Rep Pearson.
Gloria Johnson represents Knoxville. When asked why she believed that she survived expulsion while her two fellow Black colleagues were expelled, Johnson candidly replied, “I’ll answer your question: it might have to do with the color of our skin.”
Rather than marginalize the politicians, the incident has turned the three lawmakers into political rockstars and martyrs. Thousands of people across the nation have poured into Nashville to demonstrate their support for Jones, Pearson and Johnson. The congressional Black caucus announced their support and have come to the defense of the trio. Vice President Kamala Harris made an urgent trip to Nashville on Friday to meet with the two Black Democratic lawmakers.
As someone who currently resides in Tennessee, the news has drawn intense and passionate debate throughout the state. There are those who see the lawmakers as “rule violators and troublemakers,” while others are fiercely supportive of the trio and offer their unwavering support. Count me in the second category.
“I basically had a member call me an uppity Negro,” Jones, who is Black, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid after the 72–25 vote that expelled him.
“From the time I walked in in January, I was made to feel like I should not be welcome here because I’ve led protests here. I was arrested in this building over 14 times trying to remove a KKK statue that we finally removed from this rotunda where we’re standing,” he added…. “What we saw in Tennessee yesterday was an attack on democracy and very overt racism, as you can see that the two youngest Black lawmakers were kicked out, but our colleague, my dear sister, Gloria Johnson, a white woman, was not,” he said. “And we see clearly, the nation has seen clearly what is going on in Tennessee.”