- Two ousted Tennessee lawmakers said that the state legislature has always been “toxic.”
- Former Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson told NBC News they’ve always had a “target” on them.
- Jones and Pearson were expelled last week by their GOP colleagues over their gun control protest.
The two Black Democratic Tennessee lawmakers who were ousted over their gun control protest said that the state legislature has always been “toxic” and that they’ve had a “target” on their backs since day one.
Former state Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis were expelled last week through a vote by the GOP-led Tennessee House of Representatives after they led a protest for stricter gun laws on the state House floor.
“It has always been a toxic work environment to work in the Tennessee State Capitol,” Pearson said during an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” alongside Jones.
Pearson accused other lawmakers of making comments “about hanging you on a tree and hanging Black people on a tree as a form of capital punishment.”
“When you were a dashiki on the House floor and a member gets up, and they talk about your dashiki saying it’s unprofessional, they’re really sending signals that you don’t belong here,” Pearson said. “It’s about us not belonging in the institution because they are afraid of the changes that are happening in our society and the voices that are being elevated.”
Jones said that there has been a “target” on both he and Pearson since they were elected.
“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,” said Jones.
He added: “This is the first time in Tennessee history we had a completely partisan expulsion by [a] predominantly white caucus.”
“What we saw was a system of political hubris,” Jones continued. “This was not just an attack on us, but it was an attempt to silence our districts, predominately Black and brown districts who no longer have representation.”
Jones also accused the GOP-led Tennessee House of Representatives of being “more beholden to the NRA than their own people and their own districts” and specifically called out Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
Sexton did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Insider on Monday.
Before their expulsion, Jones and Pearson called for gun reform in the wake of the deadly school shooting at Nashville’s The Covenant House.
Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, a white lawmaker, was part of the protest on the House floor but was spared from expulsion.
Johnson previously said it was “pretty clear” why the state’s Republicans expelled Jones and Pearson while she held on to her seat.
“I’m a 60-year-old white woman, and they are two young Black men,” she told CNN.
Jones and Pearson both said that they want to be reappointed and would run in a special election to take back their seats.
Meanwhile, Nashville officials are expected to vote Monday to reinstate Jones, while Pearson could be reappointed at a meeting of the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.