From left, Tennessee state Rep. Justin Pearson, state Rep. Justin Jones and state Rep. Gloria Johnson hold their hands up as they exit the House Chamber doors at Tennessee state Capitol Building in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, April 3, 2023. In Tennessee, three Democratic House members are facing expulsion for using a bullhorn in the House chamber to show support for pro-gun control protesters. In an increasingly polarized political atmosphere, experts say these kinds of harsh punishments for minority party members standing up for principles they believe in will likely become more common, especially when acts of civil disobedience clash with the rigid policies and procedures of legislative decorum. (Nicole Hester/The Tennessean via AP, File)

By AFRO Staff

President Joe Biden echoed the dismay voiced by elected officials and thought leaders around the country who condemned the April 6 expulsion of two Black  Democrat members from the Republican-controlled Tennessee state House of Representatives over an anti-gun demonstration in the chamber last week.

“Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest is shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” Biden said in a statement. “ Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.”

State Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson were expelled from Tennessee’s House April 6.  The two Black lawmakers, along with state Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is White, were targeted by Tennessee GOP lawmakers for their roles in a gun control protest in the state House of Representatives. 

The three lawmakers staged a protest, featuring chants for gun control bellowed over a bullhorn from the well of the state house chamber,  in the wake of a mass shooting that claimed six lives–three of them nine-year-olds– at a Christian grade school in Nashville, Tenn.

Leaders of the GOP-controlled body decried the protest as a breach of decorum. 

National Urban League (NUL) President Marc Morial and leaders from Tennessee’s NUL affiliates joined Bident in condemning the expulsion. 

Their statement cited the March 27 mass shooting, saying “instead of focusing on finding solutions to the growing threat of gun violence, the Republican majority has decided to reprimand their colleagues and expel them.

“ When are we going to focus on the real issues? 

“They are more concerned with rebuking Democrats for protesting rather than focusing on ways to prevent more school shootings,” the Urban League statement said. 

The ousted members represent more than 150,000 Tennesseans. 

“Speaking up on behalf of the last, the lost, the least, those who’ve been left out, those who’ve been ignored, those who’ve been silenced but refuse to be silent anymore, that does not deserve expulsion from this House,” Pearson said.

Jones labeled the expulsion “ a spectacle” and “a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process.” 

In a 20-minute statement delivered to the chamber before he was expelled, Jones said, “We called for you all to ban assault weapons and you respond with an assault on democracy.” 

Jones said his expulsion set a “precedent that any member who voices dissent or opposition can be expelled from the legislative body.”

“Today is a very dangerous day for America,” he said.