The Tennessee House of Representatives, dominated by a Republican supermajority, voted Thursday to expel two Black Democratic legislators who had participated in a peaceful public demonstration on behalf of gun control. A third representative, white and female, was one vote shy of also being expelled. As Elie Mystal, writer for The Nation, aptly put it, the House’s action was a clinic in critical race theory.
It was that and more – a powerful illustration of in-your-face racism and of how absolute power morphs into absolute corruption.
Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, the two expelled members, have a history of community activism. They are outspoken and extremely popular in their districts, one of which is Nashville where the school shooting that killed six people brought out hundreds of people, including many schoolchildren, in an ultimately futile attempt to get the legislature to do something about gun violence.
The white House establishment seemed to think it needed to teach these upstarts a lesson, so it accused the Democrats of “disorderly and disruptive conduct.” Ignoring precedent and its own procedures, the House leader proceeded to call for a vote.
As Justin Jones said, “We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy.”
Any sensible, moderate Republican in the Tennessee House who was truly offended by the protest could have called for censure or a reprimand as alternative to the extraordinary step of expulsion. But these men wanted a political lynching.
The times are different now, however: The Republicans have made heroes of Jones, Pearson, and Gloria Johnson; and they will reap what they sow when Jones and Pearson return to the House, reappointed by local councils and eventually reelected by their constituents.
Once again, though we hardly need reminding, the Tennessee House leaders have shown us why racial injustice and gun violence must remain central political issues in American politics.
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.