By Catherine Pugh,
Special to the AFRO
Both of the expelled Tennessee legislators, Rep. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have been reinstated by the Shelby County Commission in Memphis, Tenn.
Tennessee lawmaker Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) was exempt from the April 7 expulsion, despite her involvement with the “Tennessee Three” and choosing to speak out against the lack of gun control in the state of Tennessee on the house floor.
A total of 66 votes were needed for Johnson to be removed from her position, but she was spared from expulsion by one vote. However the other legislators involved in the protest were two Black men Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Rep. Justin J. Pearson, D-Memphis.
Johnson spoke out about the expulsions of her fellow democrats, noting that she believed it to be racially motivated.
“I hear racist statements all the time.” Johnson stated when discussing her two Black colleagues being expelled with local media. “They’ve made themselves clear. If you heard the questioning of those two young men compared to my questioning, you definitely heard racially tinged questions. It’s blatant, quite frankly.”
Laura Hall, president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), says that what happened in the Tennessee State Legislature should never happen again in any other state legislature in this country.
“It is appalling that something like this can still happen in the United States,” said Hall, a Democrat in the Alabama State Legislature. Hall represents over 700 state African American legislators nationwide who represent over 60 million people.
Hall is calling on all state legislatures in the country to pass a resolution condemning the actions of the Tennessee legislature.
The Majority Republican Tennessee State legislature, which outnumbers Democrats three to one, on April 6, voted to expel two African American male members, Democratic State Representatives Pearson, of Memphis, and Jones, of Nashville for a gun violence protest they led inside of the chambers on March 30. Johnson, who stood with the two protesters, says she survived the expulsion vote because she is a “White woman.”
“To say this action was not racially motivated is to be delusional and in denial,” said Hall.
“For a debate over such an important issue as gun control to result in expulsion is unprecedented. The floor of the legislature is for healthy debate and protest,” said Hall. “The emotions are high in this country. Mass shootings that involve our children and community members are taking place too often.”
Tennessee has experienced two mass shootings this year. On Feb. 19 in Memphis eleven people were shot – one fatally – where Rep. Pearson hails from.
On March 27 three children and three adults at a Christian school were shot to death where Rep. Jones hails.
“These tragedies should spark action and conversation over the need for stiffer gun control laws in the chambers of the Tennessee legislature and chambers of legislative bodies across this country,” said Hall, “not result in expulsions.”