A Tennessee Republican has issued an apology after suggesting lynching be used as a form of execution. ABC News reported Rep. Paul Sherrell, a white man, made the shocking remarks on Tuesday (Feb. 28) after a different representative introduced legislation to include the firing squad to execute death row inmates.
“I think it’s a very good idea, and I was just wondering about… could I put an amendment on that it would include hanging by a tree, also?” Sherrell asked.
Although his commentary did not spark immediate pushback, the 63-year-old politician was eventually pressured to issue a response.
“My exaggerated comments were intended to convey my belief that for the cruelest and most heinous crimes, a just society requires the death penalty in kind,” he explained on the House floor on Thursday (March 2). “My intention was to express my support of families who often wait decades for justice. I sincerely apologize to anyone who may have been hurt or offended.”
Black lawmakers have expressed rightful disdain over the initial statement, according to the Associated Press.
“Hanging from a living tree invokes an image in Black folks,” said Democratic Rep. Vincent Dixie, who is Black. “It’s hurtful, and it makes us frustrated and angry.”
Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson, a Black lawmaker, attempted to read the names of victims of lynching in Shelby County on Thursday.
“I want to recognize in memoriam some beloved community members,” he said, asking for others to stand. According to AP, after reading a few names and confirming they were lynched, some lawmakers sat back down and Pearson’s microphone was cut by House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
The outlet reported the Equal Justice Initiative found more than 230 lynchings were reported between 1877 and 1950 in Tennessee, with most of the violent incidents in Shelby County, which includes Memphis and houses one of the state’s largest Black populations. According to Death Penalty Info, the Volunteer State had 47 total people on death row, with 23 of them being Black, as of April 2022.