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VP Harris heads to Tennessee as Black lawmakers booted from assembly

#Harris #heads #Tennessee #Black #lawmakers #booted #assembly

Vice President Kamala Harris headed to the southern US state of Tennessee on Friday as the expulsion of two Black legislators from the state assembly escalated into a major row over race and representation.

The Republican-led Tennessee House of Representatives expelled the two lawmakers on Thursday after they disrupted an assembly session to demand stricter gun controls in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at an elementary school. A third white legislator who joined their protest was not removed.

“This was a kangaroo court,” Sam McKenzie, Democratic chairman of the state assembly’s Black caucus, said at a news conference Friday in Nashville, assailing Republicans for expelling the lawmakers — Justin Jones, 27, and Justin Pearson, 28.

“The world saw the optics,” McKenzie said. “I don’t have to say a word about the fact that our two young African American brothers were unfairly prosecuted.”

The extremely rare move to expel the lawmakers caused an uproar, with President Joe Biden calling it “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” and reiterated calls for America to overcome its divisions to tackle the scourge of gun violence.

While the White House did not explicitly comment on the racial aspect of the standoff, the decision by the country’s first Black vice president to head to Nashville sent a clear message of solidarity.

Harris “will meet with state legislators, young people and advocates who in the wake of horrendous violence and tragedy demanded their legislators take meaningful action to address gun violence,” said a White House official.

Together with fellow representative Gloria Johnson, Jones and Pearson became known as the “Tennessee three” after staging a protest against gun violence on the House floor, using a bullhorn, while demonstrators rallied in the gallery.

Their protest followed the shooting death of three young students and three staff at a private Christian elementary school in the state capital on March 27. 

– ‘Jim Crow-era’ –

The legislature voted mostly along party lines on Thursday to expel Jones and Pearson for breaching floor rules. A vote to expel Johnson failed by one vote, with half a dozen Republicans joining Democrats to vote against her expulsion.

Jesse Chism, a Democratic state legislator, compared the vote to the era of racial segregation.

“It looked like a Jim Crow-era trial,” he said.

Johnson voiced a similar view, telling CNN: “Well, I think it’s pretty clear. I’m a 60-year-old white woman and they are two young Black men.” 

Jones and Pearson delivered impassioned pleas against their exclusion and a photo of them raising their fists went viral.

Speaking to MSNBC, Jones called the expulsion “a dangerous precedent for the nation” and a “direct assault on democracy,” urging the Justice Department to look into the legality of the move.

“If you didn’t tell me this was happening to me, I would think it was 1963 instead of 2023,” he went on. 

“Because what we’re seeing is a predominantly white supermajority, undoing democracy, forcing their will on my district which is a predominantly Black and brown district, one of the most diverse in Tennessee.”

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#Harris #heads #Tennessee #Black #lawmakers #booted #assembly

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