Just when you think America has come so far in diminishing the racism and discrimination that plague all facets of this country, what happened in Tennessee is a chilling reminder that we are far from solving it. In the first week of April, Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, two young Black Democratic Tennessee lawmakers, were expelled from the Tennessee state House of Representatives for protesting for better gun laws and to stop mass gun violence.
Protesting outright on the state floor isn’t necessarily something you can do and other representatives had issues with Pearson’s and Jones’ decorum, along with them using a bullhorn which is why they were expelled. Guns are a red flag when any type of measure is proposed to diminish their accessibility and use when you’re dealing with most Republicans. Republicans are notorious for receiving money from the National Rifle Association (NRA). So when you’re going against a republican majority state house fighting for gun laws, they’re not going to like that.
The protest and subsequent removal were in lieu of the recent school/church shooting in Tennessee on March 27, which claimed the lives of three children and three adults. Justin Jones, who is 27 and represents District 52, which is in the Nashville area of Tennessee, gave a profound speech before getting expelled. He said, “A state in which the Ku Klux Klan was founded is now attempting another power grab by silencing the two youngest Black representatives… You have the votes to do what you’re going to do today, and I wanted to let you know that when I came to this well, I was fighting for your children and grandchildren too — to live freely, free from the terror of school shootings and mass shootings.”
He also made it clear that if and when he was expelled, he would still be fighting for gun laws and safer schools. Jones went to college at Fisk University, where he received his B.A. in political science and completed a Master of Theological Studies at Vanderbilt University.
Justin Pearson, who is 28 years old and represents the 86th district of Tennessee, which is in the Memphis area, went to school at Bowdoin College, majoring in government and legal studies along with other educational achievements. Pearson had a classmate who died from gun violence, so he has a deep connection to the issue.
In an interview with the Breakfast Club, Pearson stated that protesting on the floor of the State House wasn’t something he wanted to do. He wanted to go about it the right way, which is to ask to be recognized when bills you have an opinion on are discussed, but every time he did that, he chose to keep talking about ending gun violence. The house speaker threatened to restrict Pearson’s speech, which is how we ended up with the protest.
The district that Pearson represents is 60% Black. Gun violence in the Black community is a very prominent issue. So when Pearson speaks about gun reform and laws, he wants to address that situation first but also help all communities in the same situation. It’s also important to mention that the mass shooting in Tennessee that sparked all of this wasn’t located in either Justin Jones’ or Justin Pearson’s district. Which signifies the bravery, leadership and commitment that these two Black men have to helping and protecting the people of Tennessee.
The shooting was in the 56th district in parts of Davis County, represented by Democratic Representative Bob Freedman. Freedman’s opinion on what’s been happening these last few weeks has been rather minimal hasn’t nearly been heard loudly enough which has puzzled many in the public and raised some eyebrows. He did however say in a press conference speaking on the expulsions, “Instead of us having meaningful conversations, we’ve been distracted with the expulsion of some of our members who were speaking out for exactly what the people across our state are begging for us to do, and that’s action.”
In a new development last week, both Pearson and Jones were reinstated to their state house seats. Vox’s Li Zhou reports, “Jones was reinstated by the Nashville Metropolitan Council by a 36-0 vote on Monday, and Pearson was reinstated by the Shelby County Commission by a 7-0 vote on Wednesday.”
Although they were reinstated, both will have to participate in a special election (in which both intend to participate) to officially have their seats back under Tennessee law. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have become overnight emblems for the bravery they have shown in standing up for what is right. But it’s important that, as much as we like to highlight and praise the messenger, we also need to stay focused on the message. America needs safer gun laws and an end to gun violence and mass shootings, something that isn’t so prevalent in any other country but ours.
Isaiah Ireland is a second-year media and culture major with a minor in digital marketing. II978280@wcupa.edu.