‘Our vote doesn’t matter’: Black Tennessee residents frustrated over expulsion of legislators

NASHVILLE — Outside a Kroger grocery store in the suburban Antioch neighborhood, where ousted Tennessee representative Justin Jones held rallies during his 2022 campaign, Black residents expressed outrage at the state Republicans who expelled their representative for protesting gun violence last week.

“He’s Black, he has our interests at heart, and he gets removed for protesting, that is racial,” Angelo Tate, 31, who identifies as a Democrat, said Friday. “It makes us feel like our choice and our voice is not valued and we seem to be moving backwards politically.”

Rachel Tate, 30, who also identifies as a Democrat, said, “It’s messed up, all he wanted to do was represent us and he got penalized for it. 

“White men don’t care what we think,” Tate said. “They took our representative away from us.

“It’s like our vote doesn’t matter.”

Former Rep. Justin Jones looks for a seat in the gallery of the House chamber after he was expelled from the Legislature.George Walker IV / AP

Natalie Hancock, 41, who did not disclose her political affiliation, echoed their sentiment. “We’re not happy,” she said. “I’m sick of the guns, so many of us are, so why can’t we say that? This was obviously racial, there is no hiding it.”

Their voices paralleled those of the Black Tennessee state lawmakers who have denounced their Republican counterparts over the expulsions. “The world saw the optics,” the caucus chairman, Rep. Sam McKenzie, a Democrat from Knoxville, told reporters Friday. “I don’t have to say a word about the fact that our two young African American brothers were unfairly prosecuted.”

State GOP legislators voted Thursday to expel Jones, along with Justin J. Pearson, who are both Black, over their protests on the chamber floor, arguing that they broke the rules of the chamber. A vote to expel a third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, fell short.

In the March 30 demonstration, the three legislators — dubbed the “Tennessee Three” — had led supporters in calling for stricter gun safety measures following a mass shooting in the state that killed three children and three adults.

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