Ousted Tennessee lawmakers say they felt targeted by GOP since Day 1

Former Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson appeared on ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday.
Published: Apr. 9, 2023 at 12:04 PM CDT
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The two Black Democrats who were ousted from the Tennessee state House said Sunday that their presence there was a source of tension from the start — even before their protests on the chamber floor in the wake of a deadly mass shooting.

The GOP-controlled state House voted last week to expel Justin Jones, who represented the Nashville area, and Justin J. Pearson, whose district included Memphis, over those protests, arguing that they broke the rules of the chamber. A vote to boot Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white Democrat who also participated in the protests, fell short. Jones and Pearson, who were took office in November and January, respectively, are community organizers and social justice advocates, and Jones has described himself as an activist.

Asked by NBC News’ Chuck Todd whether that history of activism made them a target, Jones said: “I think our presence as young Black voices for our constituencies, people who will not bow down, those who will not be conformed, that’s what put a target on us the day we walked in the Tennessee General Assembly.”

“I mean, this is the first time in Tennessee history we had a completely partisan expulsion by predominantly white caucus — all but one member of their caucus is white out of 75 members — and we are the two youngest Black lawmakers in Tennessee,” he continued.

“And so what we saw was a system of political hubris. This was not just an attack on us, it was an attempt to silence our districts.”

Pearson said he felt unwelcome since the day he entered the state House, which he described as having “always been a toxic work environment.”

He had faced backlash from state GOP lawmakers when he wore a dashiki, a garment commonly worn in West Africa, on the chamber floor during his swearing-in ceremony earlier this year.

Pearson tweeted that “a white supremacist has attacked by wearing of my Dashiki,” and in response Tennessee House Republicans argued that he violated rules for “decorum and dress attire” and that their criticisms are “far from a racist attack.”

“When you have people who make comments about hanging you on a tree and hanging Black people on a tree as a form of capital punishment. When you wear a dashiki on the House floor and a member gets up and they talk about your dashiki saying it’s unprofessional,” he said. “They’re really sending signals that you don’t belong here.”

Click to see the full interview.