By Robert J. Hansen | Special to The OBSERVER

Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones after being sworn into office Jan. 10. (@brotherjones_)
Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones after being sworn into office Jan. 10. (@brotherjones_)

The Nashville Metropolitan Council unanimously voted to reappoint state lawmaker Justin Jones to the Tennessee House of Representatives days after he was expelled by the Republican-controlled legislature for protesting gun violence in the wake of the Covenant School shooting.

“In the end, the people of Tennessee made the ultimate choice of courage and hope,” Jones said via Twitter. “Thank you to the thousands who came to the people’s house today to show the nation that we will not yield to authoritarian attacks on our democracy. Our fight is not over.”

Jones, with fellow Democrats Justin J. Pearson and Gloria Johnson, led a protest that ended on the chamber floor calling for stronger gun control laws after last month’s shooting that killed six people, three of whom were children, before police killed the shooter.

The protest prompted the expulsion of Jones and Pearson, both of whom are African American, by the legislature’s Republican majority. Johnson, who is white, was not expelled.

Johnson acknowledged the reason she was not expelled was that she is white.

Professor Cornel West said on Twitter he stands in solidarity with the “courageous Tennessee Three.”

“Shame on the House Tennessee Republicans,” West said.

Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus also weighed in on the issue.

“The California Legislative Black Caucus boldly stands with its Tennessee state legislative colleagues in the national fight to end the illegal use of guns and the devastating violence it brings onto communities and families,” Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), the caucus’ chair, said in a statement.

“Representatives Jones and Pearson’s actions embodied great valor as they stood up for their and every individual’s constitutional right to peacefully protest.”

Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles) lauded the reappointment of the Tennessee lawmaker. “I am thrilled to see that the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to reappoint Representative Jones to the Tennessee House of Representatives,” Gipson said. “This Council voted for justice, they voted to protect our constitution and they voted to ensure that Democracy prevails.”

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Central Los Angeles), vice chair of the CLBC, expressed solidarity and said he would have taken the same approach in representing the people’s voices. He added that the expulsions of Jones and Pearson “shows that we still have a long way to go when it comes to our democracy and advocating for what is right.”

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer said the Republican removal of two Black members of the Tennessee legislature for exercising their First Amendment right during a peaceful protest is abhorrent.

Gipson said the people of Tennessee were right to call on their elected officials to elevate their voice around the First Amendment in a peaceful protest calling for sensible gun legislation. “Gun violence is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed across this country, especially in Tennessee,” Gipson said, adding that the three lawmakers were unjustly accused.

“Democracy was abused that day.” 

In a statement, Tennessee House Republicans said Monday that their state’s constitution provides a pathway back from expulsion. “Should any expelled member be reappointed, we will welcome them. Like everyone else, they are expected to follow the rules of the House as well as state law.”

Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said he would not obstruct the appointments if the local governing bodies choose to send Jones and Pearson back to the chamber.

Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside), chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, said she and the caucus also stand in solidarity with the Tennessee Three.

“Expelling two Black legislators who did nothing more than peacefully protest in solidarity with their constituents in favor of common-sense gun safety laws is a manifestation of the antidemocratic views and systemic racism within the Republican Party,” Cervantes said.

The Congressional Black Caucus, led by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said the Republican-led Tennessee Legislature’s vote to expel two Black Democratic Legislators is not only antidemocratic, but shows “racism is alive and well.”

“In the days following the tragic mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville … the Republican majority in the Tennessee State Legislature has chosen to abdicate its responsibility to keep their communities safe,” the statement read. “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 targeted expulsions of Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson – two Black, duly elected members representing minority districts – make clear that racism is alive and well in Tennessee. 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 antidemocratic, but it is also 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.”

Rep. Horsford said what happened in Tennessee can’t happen in any other state and that’s why the Congressional Black Caucus is calling for decisive steps to be taken.