Two Democrat lawmakers have been expelled from the Tennessee state house after a protest over gun laws.
Three politicans took part in the demonstration, however only black politicians Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were ousted. Representative Gloria Johnson, who is white, survived the vote on her expulsion by one vote.
Republican leadership denied that race was a factor, however. The visitors’ gallery exploded in screams and boos following the final vote on Thursday (6 April).
After sitting quietly for hours and hushing anyone who cried out during the proceedings, people broke into chants of “Shame!” and “Fascists!” The three politicans had protested calling for more gun control in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Nashville.
Banishment is a move the chamber has used only a handful times since the Civil War. Most state legislatures have the power to expel members, but it is generally reserved as a punishment for politicians accused of serious misconduct, not used as a weapon against political opponents.
What has been said about the explusions?
GOP leaders said Thursday’s actions were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that politicians’ disruptions of House proceedings through protest would be tolerated. Republican Gino Bulso said the three Democrats had “effectively conducted a mutiny”.
At an evening rally, Jones and Pearson pledged to be back at the Capitol next week advocating for change.
Jones said: “Rather than pass laws that will address red flags and banning assault weapons and universal background checks, they passed resolutions to expel their colleagues. And they think that the issue is over. We’ll see you on Monday.”
What happened during the protest?
Jones, Pearson and Johnson joined in protesting last week as hundreds of demonstrators packed the Capitol to call for passage of gun-control measures. As the protesters filled galleries, the three approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant.
The scene unfolded days after the shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville where six people were killed, including three children.
Pearson told reporters on Thursday that in carrying out the protest, the three had broken “a House rule because we’re fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weaponry in our communities”.
Johnson, a retired teacher, said her concern about school shootings was personal, recalling a day in 2008 when students came running toward her out of a cafeteria because a student had just been shot and killed. “The trauma on those faces, you will never, ever forget,” she said.
Crowds chanted in support of the three lawmakers
Thousands of people flocked to the Capitol to support Jones, Pearson and Johnson on Thursday, cheering and chanting outside the House chamber loudly enough to drown out the proceedings. The trio held hands as they walked onto the floor and Pearson raised a fist during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Offered a chance to defend himself before the vote, Jones said the GOP responded to the shooting with a different kind of attack. “We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy,” he said.
Jones vowed that even if expelled, he would continue pressing for action on guns. “I’ll be out there with the people every week, demanding that you act,” he added.