State Watch

Justin Pearson reinstated to Tennessee state House after expulsion

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) has been reinstated to the state House after the GOP-controlled legislature banned the freshman lawmaker for joining a protest against gun violence on the House floor.

In a special meeting of the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday, the commission voted to send Pearson back to his House seat as supporters cheered from the galley. 

“The message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can’t expel hope,” he said after the vote. “You can’t expel justice. You can’t expel our voice. And you sure can’t expel our fight. We look forward to continuing to fight, continuing to advocate until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”

Pearson was expelled along with fellow state Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) for joining a protest for gun control on the House floor after a school shooting in Nashville left six dead, including three children. 

Pearson and Jones’s colleague, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), who also participated in the demonstration, managed to maintain her seat. Johnson is white.

The expulsion of the two young Black lawmakers incited outrage from Democrats around the nation, and Black leaders around the country said racism played a role in their expulsions. 

“You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today,” Pearson said after the vote to expel him. “Two young Black lawmakers getting expelled and the one white woman did not? That’s a statement in and of itself.”

Earlier this week, Jones received unanimous support from the Nashville Metropolitan Council to serve as the interim representative for the 52nd District. He was sworn back into office on Monday surrounded by supporters. 

Ahead of the commission’s vote on Wednesday, Pearson joined hundreds of supporters in a march to the National Civil Rights Museum and to the meeting. 

“This is the democracy that’s going to lift up the victims of gun violence, instead of supporting the NRA and gun lobbyists,” Pearson said to demonstrators at the museum as Johnson and Jones stood by his side. 

“This is the democracy that they’re scared of … the democracy that changes the status quo.”

Commissioners voiced their pride and joy in Pearson after the vote, with many applauding him for standing his ground and representing his district. 

“Representative Pearson, I am so glad, I’m so happy. I’m glad that you took up the fight and you stood your ground,” said Commissioner Henri E. Brooks.

“I know what you’ve experienced, I’ve been there and I’m happier than all of you,” she added. 

Jones and Pearson will now serve on an interim basis until a special election can be held in the coming months. Both have indicated they plan to run.

—Updated at 3:07 p.m.

Tags Gun control Justin Pearson Tennessee

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