Free the Tennessee three

Steingard argues the importance of tolerance in our government.

The Nashville school shooting was a recent horrific event in our nation’s history, which left the Tennessee House of Representatives in chaos. After such a tragic event, it is crucial to recover and work together to create a safer future. To prevent further shootings, which are carried out with legally bought firearms, harsher restrictions on rifles seems rational. 

However, this potential solution was not seen in the same light by Tennessee republicans. Representatives vehemently opposed any restrictions on guns which prompted hours of intense debate regarding a plan for the future. Ultimately, nothing came of the debate and no change was implemented. This inaction frustrated some people, which led to protests by students and others outside of the state house. Representatives Justin Pearson, Justin Jones, and Gloria Johnson heard this message and took the outside protest in by taking to the floor of the house to protest for the people. 

The three brave protestors came to the Tennessee House of Representatives with a simple mission: to raise awareness for gun control after the recent shooting. Their protest was peaceful but brash. Armed with nothing but their voices, they stood on the floor of the House and protested. A few days later, Republicans voted to remove the Justins from the House, two African-American men. Removal of persons is a measure that has rarely been taken since the 1800s. However, the even more concerning part is that Gloria Johnson, their white colleague, was not removed. While this is not statistically significant enough to accuse an entire body of racism, it brings up concerns. When asked to comment, a Republican representative stated that the Justins were just “more violent” and that it had nothing to do with race. Being more “violent” is a racist stereotype of black men and could signal these representatives’ true beliefs. These comments and the results of the voting goes to show some of the prominent issues that exist within the government. Regardless of race, expelling lawmakers because of protest and nothing more unveils some deeper issues within our government in regard to intolerance. 

Intolerance in the context of listening to new ideas is something that has become all too common, and the stubborn position on gun control is an example of this. Instead of listening to these fellow representatives and trying to come up with a compromise, the representatives’ constituents took the easy way out. The congressmen were elected by citizens to communicate and fight for policies that they believed in for the representatives’ districts. They were elected to serve their constituents and carry out their best interest from places of power. When those same individuals are cast out of the room of discussion for merely stating an adversarial opinion, the votes of their supporters are rendered meaningless. The very fabric of our democracy is torn. Expelling members as an act of political retribution instead of an emergency measure sets a scary precedent of limited democracy. 

This speaks to the very essence of our constitution. The core pillar of democracy in America is the right to free speech. America was founded on the values of free speech and the ability to protest. Without this, democracy is threatened. Since the expulsion of the representatives, they have since been reinstated. Regardless, the message that was left behind was clear. If intolerant lawmakers continue their reign of control in states like Tennessee, the progress that should have been created by democracy will continue to be halted. 

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