Congressional Black Caucus heaps criticism on Tennessee lawmakers for expelling Black lawmakers

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The Congressional Black Caucus blasted the Republican-controlled Tennessee state legislature on Thursday after two out Black Democratic state lawmakers were expelled for participating in a protest against gun violence on the House floor.

On Thursday, lawmakers voted to expel state Reps. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) and Justin Pearson (D-Memphis). Their colleague, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), who also participated in the demonstration earlier this week, survived her expulsion vote. Johnson is white.

Led by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), the CBC issued a statement Thursday evening condemning the legislature’s actions and said the Republican majority chose “to abdicate its responsibility to keep their communities safe.”

“Instead of working to keep residents safe from gun violence, they have taken the unprecedented step of expelling two Black members of the Democratic Caucus who chose to stand with families, teachers, and students to demand gun safety reforms and speak truth to power about the reality of gun violence in their community and across our country,” the statement read.

“The targeted expulsions of Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson – two Black duly elected members representing minority districts – makes clear that racism is alive and well in Tennessee,” it added.

“The GOP-led House chose to silence dissent from not only the Black representatives in the chamber, but the voices of their constituents as well. This move is not only racist and anti-democratic, it is morally-bankrupt and out of step with the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe that we need common sense gun control reforms to save lives.”

Protests erupted at the Tennessee state capitol days after a deadly mass shooting at the private Covenant School in Nashville last month. The shooting left three 9-year-old children and three faculty members dead.

Jones, Johnson and Pearson led chants on the House floor during the protests. In response, the three were stripped of their committee assignments earlier this week.

In a statement to The Hill, Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) called the actions of Tennessee Republicans “straight up fascism in its ugliest, most racist form.”

“That a Black man was expelled for standing up against the murder of children—but not his white counterpart—says it all,” Lee said, adding “Republicans want to protect guns instead of safeguarding kids. They want to put politics over the lives of the people they represent.”

“They ask for safety for themselves, but not for school children, and they’ll sacrifice the lives of our loved ones for their lobbyists,” she continued. “Now is NOT the time to be on the sidelines. We better fight back before it’s too late.”

Rep. James Clyburn said he was “disturbed” by the actions of the state legislator and called the expulsions “baseless” and “undemocratic.” Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), an outspoken supporter for gun reform, called the actions an “extremist, undue response” and “blatant abuses of power.”

Ahead of the expulsion vote on Thursday, the three members, who have become known as the Tennessee Three on social media, walked into the House floor with their fists raised. Hundreds of students from around the state cheered their support for the members.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) also tweeted her support for Jones on Thursday.

“I am proud of you & your colleagues in TN for holding firm in your commitment to justice, free speech, and gun reform,” she said. “If those Republican colleagues of yours had an ounce of integrity, they’d be passing bills for safer communities, not political retribution.”

But it wasn’t just Black lawmakers speaking out Thursday.

Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, called the expulsion of Jones and Pearson an attack on democracy.

“How can you remove these lawmakers, who spoke for thousands of Black Tennesseans living under the threat of gun violence every day, but stop short of removing their white colleague and deny this is a racist action?” Sharpton said in a statement. “The National Action Network stands with our Nashville Chapter in supporting their fundamental right to protest, especially against the gun violence that consistently and persistently impacts Black communities.”

Still, before the vote that expelled him, Jones had a message for Republicans.

“To those who here will cast a vote for expulsion, I was fighting for your children, too, to live free from the terror of school shootings,” Jones said. “If I’m expelled from here, I’ll be back out there with the people every week demanding that you act.”

“If you expel me, I will continue to show up because this issue is too important,” he added.

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