The United States became a superpower through state-sanctioned violence, supported by corrupt politicians and clergymen. Throughout its history, this country has repeatedly attacked and attempted to silence those who speak out against this violence. Despite its claims of upholding dignity and democracy, the US has actively disenfranchised its citizens and failed to protect its children.
Many have likely witnessed the political spectacle surrounding the “Tennessee 2” state representatives, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, as well as Rep. Gloria Johnson. These elected officials stood with and supported gun control demonstrations from the House floor last week, exercising their first amendment rights. However, they have faced backlash and punishment for their actions. While all three representatives have received some form of punishment for their participation, there is a clear bias and imbalance in the severity of their punishments.
Both Rep. Jones and Rep. Johnson were removed from their committee seats, while Rep. Pearson did not hold a committee seat. However, it was only Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson who were expelled from the House. (Jones was reinstated earlier this week, and Rep. Pearson was reinstated today.) The expulsion of lawmakers who stand up for the people, particularly for our children and youth, reveals the anti-democratic principles, lack of equal freedoms for all, and hierarchy of elected officials based on race and gender.
Expulsion of representatives is a highly uncommon occurrence in Tennessee, having only taken place twice before, once for bribery and once for sexual misconduct. So, those who argue that “it isn’t about race” or urge others not to “play the race card,” please refrain from making such statements. The truth is that Reps. Jones and Pearson are Black, while Rep. Johnson is not. It is that simple.
Tennessee House Republicans allege that Reps. Jones and Pearson were expelled because they left the floor to join the protestors on the balcony. They were also questioned about the meaning of “No Justice, No Peace” and accused of inciting the crowd through their participation. This political drama is precisely that – politics. Most elected officials don’t genuinely want to be among the people or take real action. So, how dare you be an elected official and do so? Ultimately, you are either expected to be conservative or moderate – you can’t be “radical” or lean to the left.
How dare these three representatives show solidarity against something that we hold so dear. How dare these two young, Black men think they can participate in an attack against something we love? Because, like many U.S. citizens, House Republicans fail to see a protest against gun violence or a call for gun control. Instead, they view it as a protest against their right to own millions of guns.
Gun violence continues to plague the U.S. and, as of today, there have been 146 mass shootings (at the time of writing this, it was 133). And, undoubtedly, Tennessee is a state that is deeply committed to their guns. In fact, Rep. Andy Ogles from Tennessee has holiday cards featuring his family and their prized assault rifles – ironically, Rep. Ogles represents the district where the Nashville school shooting occurred.
LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH
In the previous year, Tennessee ranked 11th in gun violence, and from 2011 to 2020, gun deaths increased by 48 percent. Tennessee is also consistent with the rest of the country’s concerning statistics as the number one cause of death for youth is firearms. On average, 105 children and teens die from guns each year in Tennessee, and Black children and teens are four times more likely to die from guns than their white peers. Yet, Tennessee, like many other U.S. states, believes that the most significant threat to their youth are trans and queer folx. As if drag queen storytime is more harmful and violent towards young people.
But, let’s not take my word for it, let’s examine the way they lead their state. Tennessee’s governor was quicker to pass a bill restricting drag shows, among other entertainments like topless dancers, go-go dancers, and strippers, in locations where minors are present. This is despite the fact that kids are not typically found at strip clubs and adult entertainment shows. Meanwhile, the governor has not passed any meaningful gun control legislation. Correction: he did pass a “permitless” carry bill in 2021 and is now planning to increase public safety by placing armed guards in Tennessee schools.
We continue to witness a perpetual cycle with every gun-related death. The cycle involves temporary outrage, communal thoughts and prayers, discussions about the right to bear arms, and the continued rhetoric of “you can’t take my guns” and “it’s not the guns that kill people, it’s the people that kill people.” But let’s be clear: we don’t want to take away your guns. What we want is common sense gun safety regulations.
We repeatedly voice the need for common sense gun safety regulations, yet it appears that more protections are in place for guns rather than for our people, and especially for our children. Other countries are astonished at our inability and unwillingness to address our gun problem. While the U.S. boasts of its supposed democracy and civilization, it has wreaked havoc not only domestically but also internationally for centuries.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to perpetuate this narrative of democracy and liberties while simultaneously expelling lawmakers who stand with the people and fight for the safety of our children and youth. Furthermore, it criminalizes protests that expose anti-democratic principles, lack of freedoms for all, and the hierarchy of elected officials based on race and gender.
If one knows US history, there is no room for confusion. It has been built through the genocide of our indigenous siblings and the enslavement of Black people. The country has become what it is through lies, theft, and murder. It yells about democracy yet goes to great lengths to halt and attack anyone who attempts to uphold that democracy when it does not uphold white supremacy.
WHEN IS ENOUGH?
They shout about safeguarding our rights, but when we exert those rights to challenge the injustices, oppressions, prejudices, and discriminations that hurt and TAKE AWAY the lives of our people and our children, we are muzzled. It is apparent that the rights which confront these issues head-on are not genuinely defended. So, I pose the question once more: When will we say Enough is enough?
Kristian BlackmonKristian Blackmon is a STL native who is a community organizer, activist, art curator, creative and lover of Black folx. Her work is centered in fighting against all the ways in which oppression forms & the liberation of Black bodies & Black minds.