Tennessee’s black rep is reinstated days after being deported over gun control protests

Democracy reigned, at least temporarily, in Tennessee on Monday when State Representative Justin Jones (D) regained his seat in the House of Representatives.

Jones was one of them two black members was expelled from the state legislature by Republicans last week after he, Rep. Justin Pearson and Rep. Gloria Johnson attended a student gun control demonstration. (Johnson, the only white woman, clung curiously to her seat as Pearson and Jones lost theirs.) But the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously (36-0) on Monday to send Jones back to the capital to complete the vote back many voters who felt disenfranchised through the loss of their elected representative. CNN reports that a crowd gathered before the vote and chanted, “Whose house? Our house!” to celebrate Jones’ return to office.

The Republican legislature had voted to expel Jones and Pearson for “knowingly and intentionally bringing[ing] Disorder and disgrace to the House of Representatives” by pro-gun control protests in the state capital after a Mass shooting in elementary school. “What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse, depending on how you look at it, to a riot in the State Capitol,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R).

Both Jones and Pearson made powerful, moving speeches about democracy amidst the apparent injustice.

“Until we act, there will be no peace for the thousands of children who have come here demanding our action, who are afraid they will be gunned down if they are at school,” Jones said in front of a crowded state capital. “Because you passed laws that make it easier to get a gun than it is to get health care in this state. They pass laws that make it easier to get a gun than it is to vote in this state. And so that until we take action against this proliferation of weapons of war in our community, there will be no peace in Tennessee.”

The move to expel Jones and Pearson was such a devastating blow to democracy that even President Joe Biden got involved. “Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protests is shocking, undemocratic and without precedent,” he said in an opinion. “Instead of debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence and disfellowship duly elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.”

While Pearson remains expelled for now, CNN reports that the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis will decide Wednesday whether to reinstate him in his seat.

Adam Bradshaw

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