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Expelled Tenn. lawmaker calls move 'attempt to crucify democracy'

Two former state legislators in Tennessee have spoken out with Easter fervor concerning their expulsion from the State House for supporting gun control.

Former Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones speaks on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning. (NBC News/YouTube)

Justin Jones, one of two Black Tennessee legislators expelled on Thursday from the State House for leading a gun control protest in the state capitol earlier this month, has called the Republican machinations an “attempt to crucify democracy [that] has resurrected it in the form of mass movement led by young people.”

The poignant Easter message was posted on social media and stated by Jones in a Sunday morning interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” alongside fellow expelled state representative Justin J. Pearson.  Both are in their late 20s and were serving their first terms in the Tennessee State House.

“We are in the midst of a third Reconstruction, beginning here in Nashville,” Jones said.

“The message is that we will continue to resist. This is not the end.”

A Catholic-raised Afro-Filipino American, Jones represented a majority-minority district in Nashville and with Pearson was among the “Tennessee Three”—describing the Democrats who led a protest into the state capitol on March 30, following a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville three days prior.

The raucous protest was roundly condemned by Republicans in the House, who have been major proponents for lax gun laws in the Volunteer State. Jones, Pearson, and Rep. Gloria Johnson soon faced the loss of their committee assignments for their involvement in the protests, and GOP leaders later proposed a motion for their expulsion from their seats.

A vote on April 6 passed along party lines by a two-thirds majority to expel Jones and Pearson, while Johnson—who is White—avoided expulsion by one vote. Though supportive of Jones and Pearson throughout the expulsion proceedings, Johnson argued that she had not used a bullhorn during the protests to disrupt House proceedings.

Jones, in his comments, made reference to various improprieties committed by GOP State House members who have not been expelled, including a former representative accused of child molestation and another who allegedly urinated in a fellow GOP lawmaker’s office chair.

Like Jones’ comments on Sunday, Pearson evoked the symbolism of Holy Week during a testimony on Maundy Thursday. (Both Pearson and Jones are devout Christians. Jones, a Vanderbilt Divinity School student, served as a pastoral intern at a Nashville Baptist church in 2019, and Pearson has recently preached at various churches in Nashville and Memphis.)

“I don’t know how long this Saturday in the state of Tennessee might last, but we have good news, folks,” Pearson said in the State House chambers.

“Sunday always comes. Resurrection is a promise.”

Given Johnson’s retainment of her seat while Pearson and Jones were expelled, their fellow Democrats have joined in calling Thursday’s vote not only motivated by partisan political concerns, but also racist.

“No one is surprised but we can’t normalize this behavior,” tweeted State Rep. Vincent Dixie, a Black Catholic legislator from Nashville, on Saturday afternoon.

“The world has seen the racist environment and behavior we deal with in the most powerful building in the state.”

Both Jones and Pearson have said they will seek their seats again in a special election, which has yet to be scheduled. In the meantime, both are eligible to be reappointed to their seats by the Nashville Metropolitan Council and Shelby County Commission, respectively. The metro council is expected to reappoint Jones in a meeting scheduled for Monday.

Jones told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the process, caused by the GOP-led expulsions, is a bipartisan loss.

“This attack against us is hurting all people in our state,” he said.

“You know, even though it is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities, this is hurting poor White people. Their attack on democracy hurts all of us.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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