Lawmaker Withdraws 'Hanging' Suggestion

No colleagues objected to Tennessee Republican's capital punishment comment when he made it
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 2, 2023 7:10 PM CST
Lawmaker Apologizes for 'Hanging' Suggestion
The Tennessee state Capitol in Nashville.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

A Tennessee Republican lawmaker on Thursday apologized after asking earlier this week if "hanging by a tree" could be added to the state's execution methods, a comment that has shocked Black lawmakers who point to the state's horrific history of lynching. Rep. Paul Sherrell, who is white, first made the remark Tuesday as another lawmaker was introducing legislation to include the firing squad to execute death row inmates, the AP reports. "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.

At the time, no one on the legislative committee pushed back against Sherrell's comments. However, his words received attention throughout the week, which led to the Republican's apology on the House floor Thursday. "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 said. "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." According to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative, more than 230 lynchings were reported between 1877 and 1950 in Tennessee.

However, Black lawmakers expressed alarm and disappointment not only at Sherrell's failure to acknowledge the historical context of lynching but also the silence from GOP leaders who have not publicly condemned Sherrell's remarks. "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." On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson, who is Black, attempted to read the names of those who had been lynched in Shelby County while on the House floor. As he finished, House Speaker Cameron Sexton cut off Pearson's microphone and warned that he was out of line.

(More Tennessee stories.)

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