Justin Jones made it clear that “there comes a time when people get sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
During an emotional seven-hour session on Thursday, Jones didn’t mince words. He was the first of two Black Tennessee lawmakers, both Democrats, to be expelled from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Hours later, his colleague Justin Pearson met the same fate. Jones and Pearson are part of a growing movement of grassroots activists turned politicians determined to create real change as some legislators roll back hard-fought victories for voting rights, gun reform, and police accountability.
Jones’ comment, made prior to his expulsion, captured the Fisk University graduate and powerful orator’s defiance — his refusal to bow to injustice.
On his campaign website, Jones, who was born in Oakland, California, and is of Black and Filipino descent, describes himself as an activist who champions “the expansion of healthcare in Tennessee, the repeal of restrictive state voter ID laws, and community accountability in cases of police brutality,” among other causes.
The 27-year-old joined a gun reform protest in the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Nashville last week — and Republican members of the chamber punished Jones for his solidarity with the students who crowded into the building to demand that something be done.
“What we did was act on our responsibility as legislators to serve and give voice to the grievances of people who have been silenced,” he said on Thursday. “How can you bring dishonor to an already dishonorable house?”
Following the House’s act of retaliation, Jones made plain to reporters that his dedication to protecting his community hasn’t weakened.
Below, you can read the full text of the speech Jones gave before his ouster.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The world is watching Tennessee. The world is watching Tennessee. What is happening here today is a farce of democracy. What is happening here today is a situation in which the jury has already publicly announced the verdict. Just yesterday, the House speaker took to national news to condemn us and call for expulsion before any evidence was presented, before the trial happened. And so what we see today is just a spectacle. What we see today is a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process. But it will not stand because no lie can live forever.
Colleagues, the video you showed a few moments ago, I want to say thank you, because it shows to the world the ridiculousness of the claims that what we were doing merit the ultimate punishment of expulsion.
Mr. Speaker, I represent 78,000 people, and when I came to the well that day, I was not standing for myself, but I was standing for my constituents and the thousands of Tennesseans gathered in this Capitol, demanding that this body acts. But most particularly, I was standing for those young people. Those young people, many of whom come from my district, many of whom can’t even vote yet, many of whom are disenfranchised, but all of whom are terrified by the continued trend of mass shootings plaguing our state and plaguing this nation.
That is why I walked up to the well. I walked up the well because you were pushing my people back. We brought a megaphone because you cut our people off, and you cut their representatives off from the microphone time after time after time after time after time again. And there comes a time where people get sick and tired of being sick and tired. And so my colleagues, I say that what we did was act in our responsibility as legislators to serve and give voice to the grievances of people who have been silenced.
Article 2, Section 27 says that any member of the House and any member of the Senate has a right to dissent from and protest against legislation that they know to be injurious to the people. The inaction of this body when it comes to the crisis of mass shootings is injurious to the people. The obedience of this body to special interest groups like the NRA is injurious to the people. The proliferation of guns that you promote in this state is injurious to the people, and so we had no other choice but to get our dissent marked for the journals.
The next day, I was shocked to get messages, shocked to get copies of articles that House Speaker Cameron Sexton went on national television to lie to the world and saying that what happened in this well was an insurrection, what happened out in those halls was an insurrection. I was shocked to have the speaker of the House condemn mothers and children and grandmothers and parents and concerned citizens, clergy, lie on them and say that they were violent insurrectionists, and I think that he owes the people of Tennessee an apology. Because at no point was there violence. At no point did we encourage violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for the end of gun violence that is terrorizing our children day after day after day, and all we offer are moments of silence.
It is in that spirit of speaking for my constituents, of being a representative of the people, that I approached this well on last Thursday, breaking a House rule but exercising moral obedience to my constitutional responsibility to be a voice for my people. To be a voice for the Tennesseans who you choose not to listen to because of those NRA checks that are so hefty in your campaign funds. There comes a time where people get sick and tired of being sick and tired. So I came as a representative to this well.
So today, we are brought to here, where members are responding in the most extreme measure, not because of what we did, but because by breaking the quorum we broke the glass of your false power for the world to see. We broke the glass of this chamber that someone called sacred. One of the members on the other side of the aisle was in tears and said I’ve never seen such a breach of the sacred chamber. And I thought to myself, that representative has obviously never read history. Because it’s in this chamber, if you walk around this Capitol, you’ll see bullet holes when representatives got into conflict. You’ll see duels take place on this House floor, debating whether people like me should be treated like equal citizens under law. This is not a temple. This is a place where we’re supposed to wrestle for our democracy and wrestle ideas and give voice to 78,000 constituents each of us represents. But for so long, this body, drunk with power, has modeled for the world what we know as nothing less than authoritarianism. And today is the climax of that behavior.
That a week after a mass shooting plagued our community, the most direct action this legislative body takes — or should I say my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are taking — is to expel us for speaking about the issues of weapons of war on our streets. We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy. That is why the nation is watching you today. And I say to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that no matter what you vote, you have the votes, but you will not be victorious because there are generations of young people who see what’s going on. They’re young people that as you try and beat us down, they are rising up to take back the state from the extreme forces that have sought to take away the democratic process. The deliberative process on last Thursday when thousands gathered here tried to silence members from talking about the issue of gun violence because they were afraid that a conversation would remind people that there is complicity of this body and what happened at Covenant Elementary School.
The truth be told, colleagues, Covenant Elementary School was not the first mass shooting in Nashville. I represent a part of Nashville. And one of my constituents who I don’t know is in this chamber, Ms. Brooks, lost her son Akilah in that mass shooting that occurred at the Waffle House in Antioch. And after that massacre, we demanded that this body act, but once again you turned a blind eye and closed your ears and put your head in the sand and refused to listen to the voice of the people, refusing to listen to the voice of the people. And so once again, it was in that spirits of a representative for people who have time after time after time in silence that I approached this well and now this body, who showed the video of what occurred no violence, no death threats, but simply saying that until we have action, there will be no peace or safety in our communities.
And how do my colleagues respond? They respond with the most extreme measure of expulsion, which has only taken place three times in this House, only three times in over 200 years have there been members of the House of Representatives expelled. The first case was in 1866, six members were expelled for refusing to confer citizenship on formerly enslaved persons. Then in 1980, one member was expelled for taking a $1,000 bribe to kill a bill on committee. In 2016, one member — who many of you served with —was expelled for 22 counts of sexual harassment. And now what you’re doing with this prejudged expulsion resolution is saying that our actions were on par and equivalent with those egregious — some would say criminal — activities that occurred.
But the truth be told that when we approached this well, we broke no laws. We committed no felonies, we did not abuse the power of our office, we were simply trying to gain a voice for our constituents. And so this is not about expelling us as individuals. This is your attempt. This is your attempt. This is your attempts to expel the voice of the people from the people’s House and it will not be successful. It will not look around, it will not be successful because your overreaction, your flexing of a false power, has awakened a generation of people who will let you know that your time is up.
Let’s talk about expulsion. For years, one of your colleagues who was an admitted child molester sat in this chamber – no expulsion. One member sits in this chamber who was found guilty of domestic violence – no expulsion. We had a former speaker sit in this chamber who is now under federal investigation – no expulsion. We have a member still under federal investigation – no expulsion. We had a member pee in another member’s chair in this chamber – no expulsion, in fact, they’re in leadership in the governor’s administration.
And so once again, what you’re saying to us, since that you’re trying to put us on trial, I’ll say what you’re really putting on trial is the state of Tennessee. What you’re really showing for the world is holding up a mirror to a state that is going back to some dark, dark roots. A state in which the Klu Klux Klan was founded is now attempting another power grab by silencing the two youngest Black representatives and one of the only women, Democratic women, in this body. That’s what this is about. Let us be real today. Let us be real today.
Colleagues, there’s another part of this. This extreme measure is a violation twofold because it also is an attempt to silence and undo the will of over 200,000 Tennesseans whom the three of us represents. Your extreme measure is an attempt to subvert the will of voters who democratically elected us as representatives to speak and to passionately fight for them.
When I entered into this chamber, many members said, ‘What will you do with this supermajority?’ I said we will fight for you. We will not bow down simply because they have numbers because we know that we are on the right side of history and that this body is not the ultimate say. That this is not a palace or a frat house or the Bellamy Country Club, but that this is the people’s House. And so when we came into this well to say I see you I’m with you, the people of the state, we are standing with you. We are saying this is the people’s House and we will not bow down. Somebody said they were shouting on the floor. They were shouting on the floor. And it reminded me of a scripture from Genesis that said, ‘The blood cried out; the blood cried out’ — that’s what we were saying. The scripture that says if we are silent, the stones will shout out. That’s why we were shouting: No action, no peace. No action, no peace. No action, no peace.
Let’s talk about the power grab. This is unprecedented, not just for our state but the reason why states across this nation are sending letters condemning this body, the White House is talking about what’s happening in this body — because what Tennessee is doing is a power grab of ousting three lawmakers, your colleagues, simply because you have the numbers to do it. If I didn’t know this was happening to us and I read the news, three opposition legislators expelled from the legislature, I would think that this was another nation. But no, it is Tennessee showing to the world that democracy is no more simply because of gerrymandered districts and voter suppression, you have stolen the people’s House and think that you are ultimate authority.
Whereas, during the House floor session on March 30, 2023, Justin Jones of Davidson County, along with Gloria Johnson of Knox and Justin Pearson of Shelby County, that knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions. Mr. Speaker, how can you bring dishonor to an already dishonorable house? How can you bring disorder to a House that is out of order, where the speaker refuses to let representatives elected to speak for their people even be heard? How do you bring dishonor and disorder to a chamber that does not follow decorum, due process, constitutional rights, or the rules that they enact themselves? There is no equal application of law or rules as we see in this chamber, as we saw today, but it depends on who you know, it depends on if you have a certain letter by your name, it depends on if you have a supermajority — that does not sound like democracy to me.
Members counseled and said, “Perhaps you should come here and plead mercy. Perhaps you should come here and say, ‘We throw ourselves at your mercy, that we should be ashamed of what we did and hold our heads down low.’” But what we did was the only logical thing to do after a session defined by extreme silencing of representatives of this body, a session defined by multiple moments in which the attempt to even bring up gun violence was immediately out of order.