‘Might Have to Do with the Color of Our Skin’: Republican-Controlled Tennessee House Expels Two Black Lawmakers Over Gun Protest, But White Member Also Involved Gets to Stay 

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel two of three Democratic lawmakers who joined protesters demanding gun-control legislation after the March 23 Nashville school shooting.

The two expelled legislators are Black, and the third legislator is white and was saved by one vote.

The Washington Post reports that the House expelled Reps. Justin Jones, Rep. Justin Pearson in a historic retaliation for the gun-control protest.

Justin Jones Justin Pearson Gloria Johnson
Rep. Justin Jones (L), Rep Justin Pearson (C) and Rep. Gloria Johnson (R). (Photo: CNN screenshots/ Twitter)

The House also voted to expel Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, who is white, but they did not have enough votes.

The vote to oust Jones was 72- 25 and 69-26 for Pearson. Johnson was saved by one vote with a final count of 65-30.

The three legislators marched with hundreds of children and adults protesting gun violence on March 30 in front of the Tennessee State Capitol building to prompt lawmakers to pass gun-control legislation before also protesting on the House floor. The march came just days after the most recent school shooting in Nashville where six people were shot and killed, including three 9-year-old children. Supporters cheered for Jones and Pearson following the vote to expel them.

Only two other Tennessee lawmakers have been expelled since the Civil War. One was for sexual misconduct and the other for fraud, according to NPR.

Jones spoke after the vote and said the majority white, majority-Republican House destroyed democracy. He also noted past members’ behavior that did not result in expulsion.

“We had a member pee in another member’s chair in this chamber — no expulsion. In fact, they’re in leadership.”

Pearson also spoke out after the ousting and said that he would continue to fight for his community against the patriarchy and white supremacy. He made headlines in February after wearing a Dahski on the House floor.

Johnson said after the vote that the ousting was based on race after reporters asked her why she was saved from being expelled.

“I’ll answer your question,” she said. “It might have to do with the color of our skin.”

Johnson — who is a former teacher from Knoxville who lost a student to gun violence — also did not mince words when she told CNN that Jones and Pearson were expelled because they are Black. Both men are also under 30.

“I think it’s pretty clear,” said Johnson. “I’m a 60-year-old white woman, and they are two young Black men. I, in listening to the questions and the way they were questioned and the way they were talked to, um, I was talked down to as a woman, mansplained to. But it was completely different from the questioning they got,” she continued.

Martin Luther King III agreed with Johnson when he appeared on CNN. He called the GOP’s actions “unconscionable” and said Jones and Pearson were two young men fighting for democracy, as his father was. King was asked if he thought the lawmakers were expelled due to their race.

“Well, that seems to be absolutely crystal clear,” he replied. “And it shows the tragic divide in 2023, uh, we’re still dealing with racism…. Racism is still very real, whether it’s in Tennessee or whether it’s in Georgia, or whether it’s in New York City. It does not matter where it is, we’ve got to eradicate this evil.”

Former President Barack Obama responded to the ousting on Twitter and condemned the Tennessee House for being weak and eroding civility.

“This nation was built on peaceful protest,” wrote Obama. “No elected official should lose their job simply for raising their voice – especially when they’re doing it on behalf of our children.”

President Joe Biden also said the expulsion was “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”

The Tennessee House responded to the backlash from the vote on Twitter by mocking Jones, Pearson and Johnson and calling them the “#TennesseeMe members” and chastising them for wanting to bring attention to gun control.

“It’s never been about change for the 3 #TennesseeMe members. Their only interest is being in the spotlight. Today, they got what the wanted – the spotlight is on them, and suddenly they’re capable of inciting peace during session, instead of chaos. Where were your calls for decorum during proceedings last week?”

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