Democratic politicians Justin Jones, who is of Black and Filipino descent, and Justin Pearson were expelled by Tennessee’s Republican-led state legislature over a gun control protest held last week.
On Thursday, the Tennessee House voted to expel the two Black lawmakers after they led protesters to call for stronger gun control at the state capitol in the wake of the Nashville Christian school shooting that left three students and three staff dead.
The House failed to expel fellow Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson in a 65-30 vote. Expulsions from the House require a two-thirds majority of the 99-member House.
“It might have to do with the color of our skin,” said Johnson, who is white, after she was asked why she had not also been expelled.
On March 30, the three Democrats took to the House floor to protest and chant “no action, no peace.”
Jones, 27, and Pearson, 28, reportedly used a megaphone and banged on the House lectern as they addressed the protesters at the chamber’s public viewing platform.
“We don’t want to be up here, but we have no choice but to find a way… to disrupt business as normal, because business as normal is our children dying,” said Pearson.
While the three argued they were representing their constituents, the Republicans said they were leading an insurrection that brought “disorder and dishonor to the House.”
“We called for you all to ban assault weapons and you respond with an assault on democracy,” Jones said during the rare expulsion debate.
Jones, who was elected to represent House District 52 in November 2022, has been a vocal advocate for free speech, voting access, expansion of healthcare services and representation of minority groups, according to PhilStar.
He grew up in California before moving to Nashville to earn a degree from Fisk University. Jones is currently completing his Master of Theological Studies at Vanderbilt University.
His passion for activism was reportedly influenced “from hearing his lola’s stories about the People Power protests” in the Philippines, which ended the dictatorship of then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos, the father of the current Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
During his speech on the House floor before the vote, Jones said Tennessee Republicans were “drunk with power.”
This is not a temple. This is a place where we are supposed to wrestle for our democracy and give voice to 78,000 constituents each of us represents. But for so long, this body drunk with power has modeled for the world what we know as nothing less than authoritarianism, and today is the climax of that behavior. A week after a mass shooting plagued our community, the most direct action this legislative body takes, or should I say my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are taking, is to expel us for speaking about the issues of weapons of war on our streets.
Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action. It’s shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.
“We are losing our democracy to white supremacy. We are losing our democracy to patriarchy. We are losing our democracy to people who want to keep a status quo that is damning to the rest of us and damning to our children and unborn people,” Pearson told CNN during the expulsion discussions.
As Jones left the Capitol on Thursday, he told reporters that he “will continue to show up to this Capitol with these young people whether I’m in that chamber or outside.”
As for Pearson, he hopes to be re-appointed. The two Democrats can reportedly regain their positions as local governments can vote to fill the vacated positions through appointments and special elections. Expulsions also do not disqualify a former representative from running for office again.
“I do hope to get re-appointed to serve in the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners, and a lot of them, I know, are upset about the anti-democratic behavior of this White supremacist-led state legislature,” Pearson told CNN.