“REVOLT Black News Weekly” aired on Friday (April 14) with a close look at the Tennessee legislature, which reportedly has a history of disenfranchising Black people. Global news anchor Mara S. Campo hosted another enlightening episode that also spotlighted Gen Z’s growing influence on politics, the increasingly deadly reality of incarceration, and more.
The Tennessee legislature tried it, but two Black lawmakers (Justin Jones, 27, and Justin Pearson, 28) and their constituents were not having it. The two state representatives were expelled for leading protests for gun reform. Included in the initial Tennessee Three was Rep. Gloria Johnson. They were all accused of “bringing disorder and dishonor” to the House by participating in the protest — after the shooting at a Nashville Christian school where six people were killed, including three 9-year-old children.
Jones and Pearson used a bullhorn during the demonstration in the state Capitol that featured mostly young people. Only Jones and Pearson lost their seats, but interestingly, the white woman of the trio, Johnson, did not. She herself said it was due to her skin color. The assault on democracy was essentially overturned days later when Jones and Pearson were reinstated, albeit temporarily.
“The Tennessee legislature is very vindictive; they know the names of the people who are making the most news,” said Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer of Memphis. That same legislature has also done little when it comes to gun control reform despite it being popular, particularly among members of Gen Z — 3 in 5 say gun laws should be stricter. However, representatives do not match that energy.
“I do not believe that we are embraced in the political space. I believe we are taking up space and making ourselves be heard,” said Chi Osse, a former activist who is now a New York City councilmember in Brooklyn. Increasingly, young voters are becoming forces to be reckoned with in politics.
Added Osse, “I really do believe that in this past midterm election, Gen Z made themselves heard more than they ever had before.” That would include politicians like Jones and Pearson, and 25-year-old U.S. Congressman Max Frost from Florida, to name a few. That youthful promise will be essential in urging legislators to act on top-of-mind issues for young, Black constituents.
“Black voters in Tennessee are heavily disenfranchised,” said Sawyer. “Tennessee ranks last in terms of access to democracy. But like a lot of states, our urban cores are where most of the Black people live and where most of the Democrats live, so that’s Memphis and Nashville for our state. Justin Pearson represents Memphis; Justin Jones represents Nashville. Most of the state is Republican; most of the power in our statehouse and Senate are Republican leaders. The Republicans were able to draw themselves into a supermajority, giving more power to smaller white populations in rural parts of Tennessee and taking away power from the more populace Black, and now quickly growing Latinx parts, of Nashville and Memphis.”
The loudest voices included House Speaker Colin Sexton, who called for their expulsion and turned off their microphones in session, thus the use of bullhorns during a recess. Both Pearson and Jones were reinstated, pending special elections, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced he would be signing an executive order aimed at strengthening background checks for firearm purchases. The GOP’s tactic of essentially trying to silence the two Justins has backfired, and there’s no doubt more people have been inspired to speak out.
Campos got deeper into Gen Z’s political future by featuring a spirited discussion with Whitley Yates, a Republican strategist; Anya Dillard, founder of The Next Gen Come Up; and Sidique King, a Gen Z activist. Interestingly, Yates actually believed Jones and Pearson were in the wrong. “I am a firm believer of their right to protest anything; however, in the middle of session when they are legislators that are supposed to be participating in the session… to commandeer that session, and to get on bullhorns and to lead an all-out revolt against their own legislative session, to me, is out of decorum,” said Yates. “When you run for office and you put yourself in a position such as a legislator, you have to not only understand the rules but leverage your position and power, so that other voices can be heard. I don’t think that’s what they did at all.”
To her credit, Yates did believe the punishment was harsh, but the other panelists noted the Tennessee legislature’s attempt to quiet its Black members. “I think that the war that is currently happening on young people in the way that our legislators are not taking our opinions and experiences into account when it comes to the urgency associated with gun reform speaks volumes,” asserted Dillard. “This instance with [the] Tennessee Three is in that exact same boat.”
With elected officials not budging when it comes to what those who voted them in want, it would seem “civil disobedience” aka “good trouble” is another viable option, all things considered. Added King, “We saw the people who are supposedly for democracy kick them out.”
Switching gears, “RBN” took a hard look at the thousands of people dying in prison due to medical neglect. For example, the family of Larry Price Jr. said he was left in his cell to starve to death. Larry, who was homeless, was jailed after he entered a Fort Smith, Arkansas police station and verbally threatened officers in 2020. “Sebastian County murdered my brother,” said his brother Rodney Price. “He had a mental crisis. The police knew him very well. He went in there crying for help. Instead, he was thrown in jail and the key was thrown away with him.”
Larry suffered from severe schizophrenia and was locked up on a charge of making terroristic threats, and his bail was set at $1,000. His brother said the family didn’t even know about the bail (of which only $100 was needed for his release) until news reports. The family has been adamant that they were not contacted until Larry was found dead in his cell a year later. Larry was discovered emaciated, and the cause of death was acute dehydration and malnutrition — he’d starved to death. The Sebastian County Adult Detention Center has not responded after being contact by “RBN” for comment.
The family attorney has a paper trail of Larry’s treatment, with the last 48 hours including entries saying he was in good health even after he was hospitalized and deceased. Unfortunately, his ill fate is just one of many across the nation. In 2022, Vera, an advocacy group that works to end mass incarceration, reported that inside state-run correctional facilities, 20 percent of incarcerated people with a persistent medical condition go without the treatment they need. In local jails, that number ballooned to 68 percent, with many being held on bail without even being convicted of a crime.
Larry’s family hopes his unfortunate demise inspires enough outrage to help others suffering in jail. “I believe it all starts with accountability in the local government,” said Dr. Victoria D. Phillips, a criminal justice advocate. “Systems need to start with how we respond to the community needs. Why aren’t people able to access adequate resources before even coming into contact with the criminal legal system? I believe that if we want to address what’s going on in our prisons, we absolutely have to start at home in our community.”
Also on “RBN’s” docket was a look at the new faith-based film Praise This, which stars Chlöe Bailey and Quavo, and was directed by Will Packer. Correspondent Kennedy Rue was at the film’s premiere in Atlanta and spoke to the cast and director. “The whole point of this movie is that I wanted to make it for people that have lost their way. That maybe need a little bit of a reminder to reconnect with their faith,” said Packer from the red carpet. And keeping with the theme of Black excellence in Hollywood, the cast of the HBO hit “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” including creator Robin Thede, was interviewed ahead of its return for a fourth season.
Be sure to catch new installments of “REVOLT Black News Weekly” every Friday at 5 p.m. ET via REVOLT’s app. Plus, watch a clip from this week’s episode below.
Chlöe Bailey On Starring In Will Packer’s ‘Praise This’