The two black Democrats who were ousted from the Tennessee state House of Representatives said Sunday their presence there was a source of tension from the start, even before their chamber protests following a deadly mass shooting.
The GOP-controlled state House voted last week to expel Justin Jones, who represented the Nashville area, and Justin Pearson, whose district included Memphis, over those protests, arguing they violated house rules. A vote to oust Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white Democrat who also participated in the protests, fell short. Jones and Pearson, who took office in November and Januaryrespectively, they are community organizers and social justice advocates, and Jones has described himself as an activist.
Asked by NBC News’ Chuck Todd if that story of activism made them a target, Jones said, «I think our presence as young black voices for our constituents, people who won’t bow down, those who won’t settle, that’s what who put a target on us the day we walked into the Tennessee General Assembly.”
«I mean, this is the first time in Tennessee history that we’ve had a completely partisan ouster by a predominantly white caucus, all but one member of your caucus is 75-member white, and we’re the two youngest black legislators in Tennessee,» he said. continued.
“So what we saw was a system of political arrogance. This was not just an attack on us, it was an attempt to silence our districts.»
In the joint interview, Jones and Pearson said they will do everything in their power to return to office and represent their communities again.
“We will continue to fight for our constituents,” Jones said.
“This attack on us is hurting every person in our state,” he said. “Although it is disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities, it is hurting poor whites. His attack on democracy hurts us all.»
A majority of the Nashville Metropolitan Council members told NBC News they plan to vote to reinstate Jones to the Legislature. The council is expected to hold a special meeting on Monday to discuss an interim replacement for him.
Pearson is from Memphis and represents parts of the city. Shelby County Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery told The Washington Post that the commission will vote on a resolution to reinstate him this week.
The Republicans’ decision to oust two black Democrats rather than the white lawmaker who protested alongside them has sparked accusations that race played a role.
Johnson has said she believes she survived the vote because she is a «60-year-old white woman and they are two young black men.»
Republican state representative Bryan Richey, who voted to oust Jones but not Pearson or Johnson, denied the allegation, telling CNN on Friday that their removal «had nothing to do with race.»
«It had nothing to do with the color of his skin,» he said. «I respect all three of them.»