The ongoing battles between Republican leadership and young Black Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee have turned physical. During a contention session of the Tennessee General Assembly on Aug. 29, the Republican leader of the assembly appears to have shoved Rep. Justin Pearson, who in turn threatened legal action over the incident.


The shoving incident happened as the Tennessee General Assembly debated gun reform, which has led to significant political clashes in the legislature this year. In video footage posted by multiple people on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Speaker Cameron Sexton appears to be arguing with Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones. As Sexton and his detail move through the crowd, Sexton appears to lower his shoulder and move into Pearson, who goes backward. At this point, several other men, possibly security, step in between them as they continue exchanging words.


Pearson and Sexton, who have been at odds for some time, naturally viewed the incident differently. Pearson, who said he “was saying to the Speaker that we are not doing enough” to curb gun violence in the state, said, “The Speaker violently shoved me in the chest” before “other members of his party also pushed me back towards the clerk’s desk.” Pearson indicated he was considering legal action against the speaker over the incident. Sexton, meanwhile, defended his actions, claiming to have been bumped first and arguing he didn’t intentionally push Pearson.


This incident is, of course, only the latest clash between Sexton and Tennessee Republicans on one side and a handful of Democrats, particularly Pearson and Jones, on the other. Earlier this year, Cameron led efforts to expel Jones, Pearson and another Democrat who led a peaceful protest for gun reform following a school shooting in Tennessee. The expulsion ploy, an extreme punishment usually reserved for lawmakers convicted of significant criminal activity, took an explicitly racist turn when the legislature expelled the two young Black lawmakers. At the same time, the older white woman who protested alongside them was allowed to keep her position. The move backfired for Republicans, as it brought significant negative attention to the Tennessee GOP and elevated the national profiles of Jones and Pearson, who were returned to their positions by voters in special elections this summer.

As the lawmakers continue their heated debates over gun reform with little progress, tensions will remain high in Tennessee. With an expulsion and now a shove, the animosity between Sexton and other Republicans and Reps. Pearson and Jones will likely continue for some time.