Posted on April 7, 2023

Tennessee Republicans Accused of ‘Overt Racism’ After Democratic Duo’s Expulsion

Nina Lakhani, The Guardian, April 7, 2023

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have been accused of overt racism after expelling two Black Democrats from the state legislature in an act of unprecedented retaliation, for their role in a peaceful protest calling for gun control in the aftermath of a massacre at a school in Nashville.

The Republican-controlled legislature voted on Thursday to spare a white Democratic lawmaker who participated in the same protest.

Justin Jones, representative for Nashville, and Justin Pearson, who represented Memphis, gave rousing speeches in the chamber before the majority-white legislature voted to oust them, leaving tens of thousands of mostly Black and brown Tennessee residents without representation.

Justin Jones, 27, said he had “no regrets” and would “continue to speak up for Tennesseans who are demanding change”, in an interview with CNN on Friday,

“What happened yesterday was an attack on our democracy and overt racism. The nation got to see clearly what’s going on in Tennessee, that we don’t have democracy especially when it comes to Black and brown communities. This is what we have been challenging all session, a very toxic, racist work environment.”

Jones said Republican lawmakers were trying to take Tennessee backwards, and pointed to the state’s history of white supremacy, the birthplace of the ultra-violent Ku Klux Klan.

After the vote to expel them, Jones and Pearson, the two youngest Tennessee lawmakers and former community organisers, were greeted with rapturous chants and songs of resistance by a huge crowd outside the state capitol building. {snip}


Gloria Johnson, the white Democrat spared expulsion by a one-vote margin, was asked by reporters about the split vote {snip}

“I’ll answer your question; it might have to do with the color of our skin,” said Johnson, a retired teacher.

Republican lawmakers denied allegations of racism, and said the expulsions were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers’ disruptions of proceedings through protest would be tolerated.

Jones, Pearson and Johnson joined protesters last week as hundreds of demonstrators packed the capitol to demand gun-control measures, in the aftermath of the shooting at the Covenant school, a private Christian school where six people including three children were slain.

As the protesters filled the galleries, the three made their way to the front of the house chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant.