Heckling and voicing protest in America is a First Amendment right. Freedom of speech is protected by our Constitution. Right-wing advocates have made it a point over the years to state that conservative views are to be advocated in public discourse freely.
Whether or not you are in favor of pro-life, anti-immigration, pro-gun, and support faith-based restrictions on choice, we can agree conservative positions deserve open discourse as would any other point of view.
During President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address last January, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, made it a point to heckle and boisterously interrupt Biden throughout his 90-minute presentation to Congress.
While we might consider Greene’s conduct childish, inappropriate, disrespectful and annoying, no negative action was taken against her. Her heckling is considered free speech.
The same tolerant response related to public speech could not be said for the Tennessee State House.
The Republican supermajority of Assembly members responded to protests voiced on the floor of their General Assembly by removing duly elected representatives from office.
On March 27, a horrific shooting at a Nashville private school occurred just 4 miles down the road from the Tennessee State House. A former student wielding assault rifles executed in cold blood three 9-year olds and three school staff members.
The Tennessee Republican-led General Assembly, while offering hollow condolences and typical words of sympathy, was clearly not going to consider any legislative action related to restricting access to assault weapons by the mentally ill.
The concern is that this shooter was being treated for mental illness, yet she was able to locally purchase seven assault weapons without restriction.
That is why junior Tennessee Assembly members Justin Jones and Justin Pearson and fellow Democrat Gloria Johnson took to the floor of the Assembly to protest. They voiced their disappointment that their Republican colleagues had refused to discuss a meaningful remedy to our ongoing plague of mass-shootings and the unfettered access in Tennessee by the mentally ill to instruments of death.
These “Tennessee three,” Jones, Pearson, and Johnson, were up for expulsion from their elected positions due to their calling for legislative action.
Rep. Pearson lays out his argument as to why he protested against gun violence of the floor of the General Assembly:
“I’ve lost a classmate this year from gun violence. My mentor died last year from gun violence. We are dealing with a gun violence epidemic, and the resolution is not to silent the voices of people who send us here to the people’s House to speak with them and for them. It is to make sure we do just legislation. It is to make sure we fight for red flag laws.”
On live television I witnessed one of the greatest disappointments in American politics to date. Republican lawmakers of Tennessee expelled the two young Black representatives from elected office because they brought “disorder and dishonor to the House.”
Imagine if an elected majority could at any time remove their opponents from office?
Pearson stated regarding his pending expulsion, “If you look at what it takes to expel a member, or what it should take most of the times that a member of the Tennessee state Legislature had gotten expelled the last two times, in particular, one guy committed sexual assault against 22 people, the other committed bribery. We broke our House rule because we’re fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weaponry in our communities, and that leads to our expulsion? This is not democracy.”
The removal of political rivals by the opposition party in order to silence their speech is more than appalling — it is antithetical to the right to representation. Evicting duly elected representatives disenfranchises the thousands of voters who put them in office.
Not funny is that the white woman who also protested was not banned from her office.
When asked why she was not excluded from representing her constituents, Gloria Johnson stated, “It might have to do with the color of our skin.”
This disgraceful incident leaves me aghast.
A significant number of those holding political office would rather expel fellow members for perspectives.
There was no meaningful Republican party pushback against the Tennessee Republican legislators.
To some, the access to weapons of war by the mentally ill is permissible and should not be curbed or addressed.
And finally, racism seems to be alive and well in America.
Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the CFO of an accredited acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.