STORY: The Tennessee House expelled two Democrat lawmakers on Thursday a week after they took part in a gun control protest at the state capitol.
The vote by a Republican supermajority to remove Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two young Black legislators, was an extraordinary measure to discipline an act of protest when milder methods were available.
“This is an historic day for Tennessee, but it is it may mark a very dark day for Tennessee because it will signal to the nation there is no democracy in this state. It will signal to the nation that if it can happen here in Tennessee, it's coming to your state next.”
Along with Jones and Pearson, a third Democrat, Gloria Johnson, were accused of breaking House rules by leading hundreds of protesters into the state house last week to demand tighter gun control.
The demonstration came four days after a Nashville school shooting left six people dead, including three 9-year-old children.
Republican representatives, including Gino Bulso, quickly introduced a motion to remove the three advocates.
“Representative, would you agree that your conduct on March 30th was wrongful?” asked Bulso.
“My conduct on that day was what I felt compelled in my heart to do for my constituents," said Johnson.
Johnson, who is white, was ultimately saved from expulsion by one vote. While some said she may have been pardoned because she did not use a megaphone to lead chants like her peers, suggestions that race played a part came up several times during tense debate.
Meanwhile, moments before his ouster, Pearson said their fight to end gun violence will continue.
“We are going to continue to fight for just legislation. We're going to continue to fight to ensure that more lives are not lost to the epidemic of gun violence in our communities."
Hundreds of protesters gathered in the state house again on the day of the ouster vote, showing support for the Democrat lawmakers and pressing on their demand for stricter gun control.
“They’re expelling me today, but they can’t expel our movement."
Since the Cold War era, only two Tennessee state representatives have been evicted: one in 1980 for corruption and another in 2016 over sexual misconduct allegations.