Statement on the Recent Expulsion of Tennessee Lawmakers

National President Elsie Cooke-Holmes released the following statement on the recent expulsion of Tennessee lawmakers exercising their right to protest:

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has long supported common sense legislation to ban the sale of military grade weapons to civilians, a view held by an overwhelming majority of Americans according to several polls. Sadly, Congress and many state elected officials have refused to act, even when these weapons are used in mass shootings in their own backyards.

In the wake of the March 27 mass shooting at a private school in Nashville that left three children and three adults dead, the Tennessee General Assembly has ignored calls to take meaningful action to curb gun violence. Delta Sigma Theta knows all too well the toll of this inaction, having lost one of our own in 2018 in a mass shooting at a Nashville Waffle House restaurant that also left another member of Delta Sigma Theta critically injured.

The Assembly’s inaction motivated thousands of Tennesseans to march on the state’s capitol to demand gun reform. Unlike the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, there were no reports of violence of any kind during the protest.

Outraged by their colleagues’ refusal to consider gun reform measures, three members of the Tennessee General Assembly – Representative Justin Jones of Nashville, Justin Pearson of Memphis and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville – joined the protest. While the mass murder of schoolchildren in their state did not move the Assembly to take meaningful legislative action, the body acted swiftly to punish their colleagues for their participation in the protest, a move that the Associated Press called “an extraordinary act of political retaliation.” In the end, the Republican majority voted to oust Jones and Pearson, sparing Johnson by a one-vote margin. It should be noted that Jones and Pearson are African American and Johnson is white.

Peaceful protest is a hallmark of American democracy that is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Delta Sigma Theta strongly condemns the Tennessee Assembly’s malicious, politically motivated subversion of their colleagues’ constitutional rights, a dangerous precedent that deprives Jones’ and Pearson’s largely Black constituents of representation.

Members of Delta Sigma Theta will continue to use our First Amendment rights to speak out strongly and consistently for common sense gun reform and against cynical efforts to shut down peaceful political dissent.