Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton may be in legal trouble after a confrontation between him and Democratic State Rep. Justin J. Pearson led to the Speaker getting physical with the Black lawmaker Tuesday.
The Memphis Tennessee General Assembly on Tuesday was filled with loud chanting, passionate protests and heated arguments, which led to a fight breaking out on the assembly room floor. The incident caught on camera shows Cameron shoving Pearson as Pearson was confronting him about the lack of gun control legislation. It’s unclear who started the shoving.
Gun control was a huge topic at the assembly that day. This special legislative session was held in direct response to one of the worst school shootings in the history of the state.
On March 27, in Nashville, Tennessee, a shooting broke out in a private Christian school where seven people, including three 9-year-old students, were killed by 28-year-old Audrey Hale. Hale was shot dead when confronted by two veteran law enforcement officers.
Investigators discovered that Hale was diagnosed with mental health problems, according to Metro Nashville police chief John Drake in a press conference. But despite this, Hale was able to purchase seven firearms from five different stores. Three of these firearms were used in the shooting. Because there are no red flag laws in Tennessee, mental health concerns would not have been enough to take away Hale’s firearms.
Things were already heated for the House of Representatives before the incident on Tuesday because of a vote the day before. On Monday, the GOP-led House voted on silencing Pearson and another Democratic member who were expelled from the chamber earlier this year.
Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville was deemed out of order twice during the debate Monday, prompting a vote to silence him for the remainder of the day. It was 70-20 across party lines, leading to a walkout by the Democrats to protest the decision.
On Tuesday, party rivalries would flare again when Pearson, holding a sign in protest, approached Sexton in the middle of the House floor. It is unclear what was exactly said between them, but the results led to Sexton shoving Pearson in response.
The men were quickly separated before the situation could further escalate.
The point of contention between the two stemmed from disagreements to pass a bill that would tighten regulations on gun control that was proposed by Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
“While I was saying to the Speaker that we are not doing enough, while I was saying that this is shameful and a disgrace to the people in the state of Tennessee, that we are tired of going to funerals, the Speaker violently shoved me in the chest,” Pearson said. “And then other members of his party also pushed me back towards the clerk’s desk.”
Sexton, on the other hand, said, “I told him don’t bump me. My security put their hands on the back, which knocked me forward, and the photographer when you look at it, was to my left, so we moved right. At that point, we moved right, and Rep. Pearson comes in and pops me from the right side.”
According to communications director Daphne Thomas, Pearson is reviewing legal options with an attorney.