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American democracy took a stake through the heart in Tennessee, where Republicans in the state House of Representatives shamelessly ignored the will of voters and ousted two Black elected Democrats who joined a protest against gun violence.
The GOP supermajority in Tennessee declined to remove Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white Democrat who joined the protest.
“I am a 60-year-old white woman, and [the two ousted] are two young Black men,” Johnson asserted. “It’s pretty clear why.”
Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, along with Johnson, protested on the House floor after the murder of three 9-year-old students and three adults at an elementary school in Nashville.
The trio called for gun reform and led chants inside the House chamber.
Jones and Pearson were expelled.
They said they were blocked from speaking about gun violence, and GOP leaders cut their microphones, leading them to use a bullhorn to get their message across.
Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Andrew Farmer and Gino Bulso followed up by removing all three elected Democrats from their committee assignments and issuing three resolutions calling for their ouster from the state legislature.
“Today is a very dangerous day for America,” Jones said.“A lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process.”
Henrell Remus, the chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said the expulsions amounted to a direct political attack on Democrats.
He said the move sets a dangerous precedent for political retribution.
“The day that a majority can simply expel a member of the opposing party without legitimate cause threatens the fabric of democracy in our state and creates a reckless roadmap for GOP-controlled state legislatures across the nation,” Remus stated.
The expulsion of Jones and Pearson was also a move to hide the issue of gun control, said Rep. Sam McKenzie, chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators.
“This was not about that kangaroo court that happened yesterday. This was about those three young children and those three guardians, those three adults, whose lives were taken away senselessly,” McKenzie said.
“The world saw what happened. [The GOP] ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
President Joe Biden also chimed in, calling the move shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.
The president noted that Jones and Pearson stood in solidarity with students and families “and helped lift their voices.”
Former President Barack Obama noted that America “was built on peaceful protest.”
“No elected official should lose their job simply for raising their voice, especially when they’re doing it on behalf of our children,” Obama stated. “What happened in Tennessee is the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms. Silencing those who disagree with us is a sign of weakness, not strength, and it won’t lead to progress.”
Only twice since the Civil War has the Tennessee State House expelled a member, the last time in 2016 when they removed Jeremy Durham for sexual misconduct.
In 1983, the body voted to remove Robert Fisher for soliciting a bribe.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) called on Nashville and Shelby counties to immediately appoint Jones and Pearson back to their seats.
Horsford also called on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to issue a determination under the Civil Rights Act on whether the move complied with federal law about non-discrimination and for corporations in Tennessee to publicly condemn the GOP’s action.
“Apparently, Tennessee Republicans care more about stopping certain Democrats from speaking than they do about stopping America’s kids from getting shot to death in schools,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) stated.
“Tennessee Republicans’ vindictive overreaction to a peaceful protest in support of gun control following the Nashville school massacre carries the stench of white supremacy,” Council on American-Islamic Relations National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said. “We condemn this unjustified and racially-charged vote, and we expect it to only embolden activists and voters to become more involved in the political process.”