The dismissal last week of two Democratic House of Representatives in Tennessee has sparked outrage and allegations of blatant racism across the country, including by some legislators in New Jersey.

On Monday, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel 2 out of 3 representatives for participating in a vocal rally to protest and denounce lax gun laws that enabled the mass shooting in March at a Nashville elementary school. The representatives under fire are Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson. Jones and Johnson are African American and were voted out by the Republican-controlled Tennessee House of Representatives. Johnson, who is white, retained her seat by just one vote. The expulsions mark only the second time in more than 150 years that the state House of Representatives dismissed some or all of its members.

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman Credit: U.S. Congress photo

New Jersey Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman said, “It’s also not lost on anyone of the three members threatened {and expelled} for attending the same protest, was two young Black men who were punished for exercising their 1st Amendment rights. This in-your-face racism is disgusting and dangerous.” And when asked by a reporter why there was a difference between the outcome of her and why the House of Reps voted to keep her in place and expel her two colleagues, Johnson said, “It might have to do with the color of our skin.”

In New Jersey, state representative Jeff Van Drew, a Republican and ardent supporter of Donald Trump, has not commented publicly on the high-profile expulsions; however, in the past has criticized any gun legislation that imposes harsh restrictions on gun owners.

Lastly, Marisa Richmond, a professor of history and Tennessee Middle State University in Murfreesboro and a former commissioner at the Metro Human Relations Council in Nashville, said the latest action by the House of Representatives is an egregious violation of civil rights. “Two young black men have been thrown out for advocating for school safety. The birth state of the KKK has shown its true self,” she said.”

Lastly, a special legislative meeting will be held in Tennessee this week to reinstate the two expelled members of Congress and have a future special election.

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