Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D) ― one of the two Black lawmakers who were expelled by their colleagues in an extraordinary step earlier this year, and who later reclaimed their seats ― was silenced Monday during a special session on public safety in the state House.
Members of the chamber voted 70-20 to ban Jones from speaking for the rest of the day, saying he’d spoken off-topic twice. During a debate about police officers in schools, Jones called for more mental health professionals and counselors in schools and higher pay for teachers. House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) said Jones broke the rules and was “out of order.”
House Democrats walked out of the chamber in solidarity with Jones during the vote to silence him.
“All I was doing was focusing on lifting up the voice of Davidson County, of my district, who say we need mental health professionals, counselors, we need commonsense gun laws,” Jones told reporters Monday.
The special session was called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) in response to the mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville earlier this year that left three children and three adults dead.
Covenant parents have been watching the special session all week. When 70 Republicans voted to silence Jones, the gallery erupted with shouts of “Fascists” and “Racists.” Members of the public in the gallery were then ordered to leave the chamber.
“What we’re seeing is this misapplication, this abuse of rules under the leadership of Speaker Cameron Sexton,” Jones said in a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “What’s happening is not democratic. It is authoritarianism. It’s very troubling what we’re witnessing here.”
Just left the House Chamber after Speaker Sexton forced a vote to silence me for the remainder of the legislative day (for speaking “off topic”) and ordered the public cleared out of the gallery.
This is the authoritarianism we are fighting against. pic.twitter.com/xfDAh9DpmI
— Rep. Justin Jones (@brotherjones_) August 28, 2023
In April, Jones came to national prominence as a member of the so-called Tennessee Three, alongside fellow state Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson. Jones and Pearson, who are Black, were expelled from the House after they demonstrated alongside gun control protesters in the wake of the Covenant School shooting. Johnson, who is white and who also joined the protesters, missed expulsion by one vote.
Last week, protesters were kicked out of a special session hearing at the Tennessee House after they silently held up signs indicating support for gun reform. Others, including mothers of Covenant students, were also removed for clapping and cheering.
On Tuesday, Jones posted on X that if he speaks off-topic again, he will be silenced for three days. Sexton did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.