Tennessee state Rep. Justin Pearson (D) called out Republican lawmakers following their vote on Thursday to expel him and another Democrat from the state House of Representatives for their participation in anti-gun violence protests following a school massacre in Nashville.
“We can never normalize the ending of democracy,” Pearson told reporters on Thursday evening after his expulsion.
Protesters had gathered on the House floor last week calling for legislation to address gun violence following the March 27 school shooting that killed three adults and three 9-year-old students. Three Democrats — Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson — led a series of chants with the protesters without being recognized on the House floor to speak.
GOP lawmakers moved to expel the three Democrats for their actions, which they described as “disorderly behavior” that “knowingly and intentionally” brought “disorder and dishonor” to the House.
The House, which holds a Republican supermajority, expelled Pearson on Thursday in a vote of 69-26, after which crowds in the gallery chanted “Shame on you! Shame on you!”
“If you want to fight to change it, if you want to help to make this place a better place, you have to use your voice, you have to use your power, and, yes, sometimes you’ve got to get expelled,” Pearson said.
Pearson said the “racial dynamics” of the vote can’t be ignored. Both Pearson and Jones, who are Black, were expelled. But Johnson, who is white, maintained her seat since she didn’t receive the required 66 votes to warrant expulsion.
“You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today. Two young Black lawmakers get expelled and the one white woman does not? That’s a statement in itself,” he said.
The Democrat emphasized that he will be back to keep fighting for gun restrictions in the state, and he criticized the Republican Party for wanting to “keep things the same.”
“We see gun violence every single day. We have too many loved ones that we’re putting in the ground, and these folks up here are treating things like it’s business as usual. It is not business as usual. Our lives are at stake, as we’re going to fight for our lives just like they’re fighting” for the National Rifle Association, Pearson said.
President Joe Biden echoed criticisms of GOP Tennessee lawmakers, calling their expulsions of Jones and Pearson “undemocratic.”
“Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action. It’s shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” Biden said in a tweet on Thursday.