By Catherine Pugh
Special to the AFRO

Tennessee legislators voted to silence Justin Jones (D-TN-52) on the House Floor during a recent special session for public safety.

Governor Bill Lee (R-TN) called the session to address gun safety in the state. The meeting convened on Aug. 21 and ended abruptly on Aug. 29. 

Justin Jones was temporarily silenced on Aug. 28 by a new rule put in place by Republicans for the special session. The rule allowed the majority Republican legislature to silence Jones, an African-American Democratic member of the body. 

Former President of NBCSL and democratic member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Billy Mitchell (D-Ga.), told the AFRO  “that law was put in place to silence legislators like Justin Jones.”

“We could not talk about limiting access to guns, nor the types of guns…it was very frustrating.”

The new law was signed off-on last week. Included in the new law was not allowing the public to hold signs during committee and floor hearings. A Tennessee Judge, Chancellor Anne Martin blocked that portion of the legislation agreeing with civil rights activists that it would violate freedom of speech.

Prior to the silencing, Rep. Jones proceeded to debate the validity of a bill allowing more law enforcement officers in schools and not enough funding for needed resources.

“What our schools need are mental health professionals and counselors,” said Jones. “Pay our teachers better. We don’t need more police in our schools.”

House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Tenn.-87), a Democrat and member of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), called the recent Tennessee State Legislative special session, “a complete waste of time.”

“We did nothing,” she said.

After the silencing Democrats walked off the floor of the chambers in protest. 

Representative Harold Love (D-TN-58), the president-elect of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, (NBCSL), spoke with the AFRO about the special session. 

“We were very concerned coming back into the special session,” said Love.  “The Governor narrowed what could be discussed during the session. We could not talk about limiting access to guns, nor the types of guns. “It was very frustrating. We could not even discuss or put on the floor bills that covered the concerns of many of the parents who were advocating for change in our state’s gun laws.”

During the regular session in March of this year, Jones was expelled by the Republican majority along with another Black colleague, Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Tenn.-86), for approaching the house floor without permission with a bullhorn. 

The action, according to Jones, was because the speaker refused to allow debate on the issues around gun control in the wake of the deadliest school shootings in the state. The mass killing left three students and three adults dead. Their white colleague who participated in the protest with them, Gloria Johnson (D-Tenn.-90) was not expelled. Both colleagues gained their seats back. 

All three colleagues have vowed to run for the State Senate in 2024.