The Tennessee Statehouse has made headlines after two Democratic politicians were expelled for leading a gun control protest that halted legislative proceedings. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were removed from the House of Representatives in a rare move, as a result of the protest. However, Gloria Johnson, who also took part in the demonstration, was not expelled.
The protest was held in response to a school shooting that took place on 27 March at Nashville’s Covenant School, which claimed the lives of six people, including three children. Since then, crowds of protesters have flooded the State Capitol, demanding action on gun control.
On 30 March, the “Tennessee Three” – Jones, Pearson, and Johnson – took to the House floor, where they chanted “no action, no peace”. They were joined by hundreds of pro-gun control demonstrators who had converged on the statehouse. Jones and Pearson used a megaphone and banged on the House lectern as they made rousing speeches, addressing the protesters who had crowded around the chamber’s public viewing platform. “We don’t want to be up here, but we have no choice but to find a way… to disrupt business as normal, because business as normal is our children dying,” Pearson said.
The chamber’s proceedings were brought to a standstill for nearly an hour, prompting the Republican-controlled House to vote for the expulsion of Jones and Pearson. A vote to expel Johnson failed. Political analysts suggested that Johnson may have been spared expulsion because she did not use a megaphone. However, she suggested that Republicans did not expel her because she is white, whereas Jones and Pearson are both black.
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, condemned the expulsions as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent”. Jones said that the move had left 78,000 people in one of the state’s most diverse districts without representation. He accused an “extreme Republican supermajority, almost completely a white caucus”, of expelling “the two youngest black lawmakers because we stood demanding action on gun violence”.