Two Black lawmakers in Tennessee were expelled from the House on Thursday after a Republican-led vote removed them from duty for leading an anti-gun protest on the House floor in the wake of last week’s deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Nashville.
However, the white woman lawmaker who joined the now-expelled Black lawmakers was spared any such consequence.
After hours of fiery debate, the House expelled Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, on a 72-25 vote, and Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, by 69-26, in a move that put the nation’s eyes on Tennessee and its politics.
But the House failed by one vote to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to kick Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, out of the chamber. The effort to expel Johnson failed on a 65-30 vote, as chants of “Gloria! Gloria!” rang out in the House chamber.
Republicans removed two of the youngest Black lawmakers from the General Assembly, further reducing an already small minority caucus.
When reporters asked why Johnson thought she wasn’t expelled like Jones and Pearson, she suggested, “it might have to do with the color of our skin.”
Jones called his expulsion “a farce of democracy” and compared Thursday’s vote led by Republicans to “a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process.”
The three Democrats were threatened with expulsion from the House because of their roles in leading a protest in the capitol building last week.
House Republicans argued that Jones, Johnson and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
The House Democratic Caucus and Tennessee Black Caucus called the unprecedented move “political retribution” that is both “unconstitutional” and “morally bankrupt,” considering the context of the protests.
The expulsions of Jones and Pearson doesn’t necessarily mean they’re finished with public office. Their removals mean there will be special elections in which they can still run and be reelected to their now-vacated seats.
The expulsions come days after Jones was shown on video being physically assaulted by a Republican lawmaker who has avoided any punishment for the incident.
Jones, who is Black and Filipino, was struck by Rep. Justin Lafferty on Monday as chaos broke out in the Tennessee capitol building amid a Republican-led effort to keep state gun laws unchanged.
As Jones recorded the raucous scene of citizens chanting “fascists!” at Republicans, he focused on Lafferty, who was also holding his phone to document the protests. Jones continued to record from the House floor, showing people chanting from the balconies while being removed from the premises by law enforcement. But when he panned his camera phone back toward Lafferty, the Republican appeared to take a swing toward Jones’ head, knocking the Democrats’ phone from his hand.
“Lafferty pushes me and grabs my phone,” Jones said in a tweet showing the video footage. He called it “a sad day for Tennessee.”
Local news outlet the Tennessee Lookout described Lafferty as “grabbing Jones’ phone and shoving the freshman lawmaker.”
House Democratic Caucus Leader John Ray Clemmons also said Lafferty is guilty of “assault.”
Conservatives have been busy deflecting blame for last week’s deadly shooting rampage at the Covenant School, where three 9-year-old children and three adults were killed by a gunman.
In one glaring example of conservatives inexplicably refusing to acknowledge the role guns play in mass shootings, a Fox News contributor blamed the senseless violence at the Covenant School on an “unlocked” door that was actually locked after all.
“We need to remember, the side door, I don’t know the exact facts of this moment but from what I understand a side door was unlocked,” Fox contributor Nicole Parker, who is a former FBI agent, said in the hours after the shooting. “That seems to be a common pattern in many of these shootings. A side door.”
Of course, Parker’s assessment was completely wrong as surveillance footage from the school later showed 28-year-old former Covenant School student Audrey E. Hale using one of the multiple powerful guns they had to shoot through the locked door.
Not to be outdone, Florida Republican Congressman Byron Donalds suggested seeking tighter gun laws in Tennessee was the result of “emotion” and not logic.
“If you’re going to talk about the AR-15, we’re talking politics now…Let’s not get into emotion,” Donalds said in reference to an event that involved three 9-year-olds being ruthlessly gunned down. “Because emotion feels good, but emotion doesn’t solve problems.”
Donalds then suggested the topic of mental health be prioritized, not guns, as if both can’t be done at the same time.
“People are allowed to possess firearms,” Donalds went on to say. “Need is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t question why you need a blue suit, but you got one.”
This is America.
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