Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), left, gives Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), right, a solidarity fist bump at the California State Capitol on May 15, 2023. Jones, a native of Oakland, Calif., was briefly expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives from joining a protest on the floor addressing stricter gun laws in the state. CBM photo by Robert Maryland
WRITTEN BY ANTONIO RAY HARVEY | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA
Last Week, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) welcomed Tennessee lawmaker and Oakland native Justin Jones to the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The visit occurred one month after Jones was expelled from the Tennessee legislature for participating in a protest on the Tennessee State House floor demanding urgent action on gun control. Jones has since been reinstated, and was recognized on the California Assembly floor with a resolution condemning his expulsion and that of fellow Black Democrat Justin J. Pearson by the Tennessee Legislature.
Jones told a roomful of reporters at the Capitol that he participated in the demonstration to “protect kids, not guns.”
“They tried to make a public spectacle out of us,” Jones said of the Republican lawmakers who voted to expel him.
“But what they didn’t realize is that the nation was watching, and that the nation was seeing the immoral decision being made to expel lawmakers instead of passing common-sense gun laws that the majority of Tennesseans, the majority of Americans, are calling for in this moment,” he added.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) and Assemblymembers Tina McKinnor (D- Inglewood), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) and Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) – all CLBC members -- attended the event. Senate President pro Tempore, Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) stood with Jones and the other lawmakers.
“I’m thinking about all of us are standing here united from the Tennessee State House to the California State House with a clear message that if you come for one of us you come for all of us,” Jones said. “This is what multi-racial democracy looks like and we will not let any type of authoritarian, anti-democratic force take us back in our history, a time we don’t want to go to.”
The Assembly unanimously voted 60-0 to disapprove of the actions taken by the Republican controlled Tennessee House chamber. The resolution, AJR 5, was authored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Gardena), who has authored and supported several other pieces of gun-control legislation.
Assembly Republican Minority Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) praised Jones for speaking up on behalf of his constituents in Tennessee and pledged his full support for AJR 5. However, he also criticized his Democratic colleagues for not bringing wildfire prevention and anti-Fentanyl bills to the Assembly floor.
Gallagher said he was close to bringing “a megaphone” and coming onto the floor” to discuss those issues, which he said are priorities for his caucus.
“Don’t get up here and preach to me about democracy and talk about other states. The message about Rep. Jones is not just about Tennessee. It’s for you,” Gallagher said. “The bottom line is, if we want to ensure democracy, we better do it right here at home. Do a little soul-searching first before you make this into a day of the panderer.”
Gipson said gun control is an important issue that must be addressed in California and across the country due to the increasing frequency of mass shootings around the nation.
“Tennessee tried to snuff out democracy. Tried to silence the voices of the representatives that represent their constituency. If we stood by as Californians and did nothing, we would have been guilty of remaining silent about the things that matter,” Gipson said.
After the tragic shooting at Covenant School in Nashville that resulted in the loss of three children and three adults, Democratic Representatives Gloria Johnson, Pearson, and Jones joined a group of protesters at the state capitol. These legislators, whose districts are in Memphis, Knoxville, and Nashville - the state’s three largest cities - have been dubbed the ‘Tennessee Three’ by the media.
On April 6, the Republican-controlled state House held separate votes to expel Johnson, Pearson, and Jones from their elected positions for joining in a youth-led protest.
While Jones and Pearson were expelled, Johnson, who is White, narrowly avoided expulsion by one vote. A week later, Jones and Pearson were unanimously reinstated by the Nashville Metro Council and Shelby County Commission respectively
Born in Oakland, Jones earned a Bachelor of Art degree in political science from Fisk University, a Historical Black College and University (HBCU) in Nashville. He has worked as an activist and a fellow for the John Lewis Center for Social Justice and he served on the board of directors of the Tennessee Healthcare Campaign.
Jones was elected to his position representing Tennessee House District 52 in the general election held on Nov. 8, 2022.
During the news conference, Gipson said Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda) was “responsible” for bringing Jones to the State Capitol, along with other advocates against gun violence from Northern California.
Bonta said she was both “inspired” by Jones and “heartbroken” to discuss the issue of gun violence.
Bonta added that protecting Democracy and supporting Jones and his Tennessee colleagues was imperative to saving lives.
“We needed to make sure that brother Jones and brother Pearson knew that while they are fighting this battle without the kind of support they need in the state of Tennessee that California will have their backs (and) Oakland will have their backs. Son of Oakland: we’re with you every single day,” Bonta said.