Minority House Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, speaks during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, February 13, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly called a press conference Friday afternoon as the Democratic Caucus spoke out in support of three Democrats, Tennessee State Representatives Justin Jones of Nashville, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, and Justin J. Pearson of Memphis. Jones and Pearson were two of three Representatives that were expelled from the House because they protested the immediate inactions of the Republican supermajority in the aftermath of the mass shooting on March 27th that resulted in the deaths of six individuals, including three nine-year-old children at The Covenant School in Nashville.

Beverly opened the call proclaiming Georgia’s House Democrats and Senate Democrats stand united with the fellow Democrats in Tennessee, saying “we absolutely refuse to sit idly by and watch this injustice prevail.”

Joining House Minority Leader Beverly were fellow Georgia State Representatives Michelle Au, Omari Crawford, Inga Willis, Kim Schofield as they delivered public remarks decrying the racist actions of the Tennessee House Republican Caucus.

“It is silencing the voices of those who elected them and it leaves thousands of voters without representation,” said Georgia State Senator Nikki Merritt. “I am further disturbed, but I’m surprised as a result of the votes expelled to Black members who were singled out and allowing the one White member to remain. The continuous oppression of Black voices when it comes to critical issues that disproportionately affect their community needs to stop. This is a shameful moment of overt racism on display by the Tennessee legislature.”

Representative Inga Willis, D-Atlanta, added that the Georgia State Capitol is the people’s house and all citizens are welcomed to speak their mind regarding the issues as potential laws are being changed, created and debated. Furthermore, Willis categorized the actions by the Tennessee House Republicans as, “the fruit of a systemic issue of racism.”

Georgia State Representative Inga Willis, D-Atlanta, speaks inside the Georgia House Chamber on Monday, March 20, 2023. Willis spoke out against legislation that would establish mandatory minimum sentences for persons guilty of committing gang-related crimes in Georgia. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

“The phrase that I have coined for the remainder of this chapter is, “No Justins, No Peace,” because these brothers have been expelled,” Willis explained. “They have also articulated, reiterated and edified ever so eloquently and calmly, that this is the fruit of a systemic issue of racism that many of us face in our states in our legislators. And in our houses. These are the people’s houses.”

On Monday, April 3rd, motions were filed to expel Tennessee State Representatives Jones, Pearson and Johnson after they led protests on the House Floor. During the protests, hundreds of students and concerned citizens were outside the chamber and the Tennessee State Capitol lobbied for various gun reforms. After their protests, the three were admonished by their Democratic colleagues and the Speaker of the House, Republican Cameron Sexton. However, at that moment it was unclear whether the ‘Tennessee Three’ as they have become known, would face harsher judgment or retribution.

Representatives Jones and Johnson were stripped of House committees Monday. Representative Pearson was just seated and had no committee assignments. Additionally, the trio had their ID badges to get into the Tennessee legislature turned off.

All three Democratic legislators who faced the expulsion said it was “racially motivated” that Pearson and Jones were expelled as young Black men and that Johnson did not as a white woman. After the votes, protesters held a “die-in” at the legislature, laying down on the floor for 14 minutes to represent the moments of the aforementioned mass shooting in Nashville on March 27th. 

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Beverly said he is working to establish conversation with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee after the expulsion of Representatives Jones and Pearson, coupled with the actions of Tennessee Republicans inside Capitol Hill in Nashville. Beverly acknowledged what happened in Nashville could very well happen here in Georgia’s state house. 

“As you guys know, a few years ago, we had Representative Park Cannon who was aggrieved by the decision of the Governor,” Beverly explained. “She knocked on the door and they had her arrested. It was horrible. It was horrendous and that’s the overreach of power that we find ourselves in in the state of Georgia. The most important thing I can say to anybody who’s listening is one word, one word you can do: Vote. As Georgia changes, and more importantly, the people of Georgia will become more active with the representatives that you sent up here.”

State Representative Park Cannon, center, walks with members of the Georgia House of Representatives on Monday, March 29, 2021. Cannon was arrested Thursday, March 25th for knocking on the doors of Governor Brian Kemp’s office while protesting voting rights legislation. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

The Georgia Democrats on the call universally disagreed with the actions taken by the Tennessee Republicans. They agreed there are levels of discipline that must be administered when it comes to a displayed lack of decorum while the chamber is in session before expulsion can be considered as a remedy.

Additionally, House Minority Leader Beverly said he has not made contact with Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns. 

“Speaker Burns, and I certainly will talk this week. This will never happen to Georgia, not under our watch. Not anyone on this call, not under our watch. This will not happen.”

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Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...