Tennessee state congressman Paul Sherrell who asked his colleagues if a bill to extend how death row inmates are executed could include “hanging by a tree” has apologized to the public for his comments.
Many took offense to the Southern Republican’s suggestion, noting that the form of persecution historically has been used to terrorize Blacks in the South for generations.
Sherrell even earned the honor of being awarded “Donkey of the Day” by Charlamagne tha God on his weekly morning “Breakfast Club” show.
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, during a conversation with the Criminal Justice Committee about bill HB1245, a proposal to use a firing squad instead of lethal injections, State Rep. Sherrell (R-Sparta) asked, “Could I put an amendment on that it would include hanging by a tree, also?”
He also offered to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill put forward by Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro).
The inquiry caused shockwaves, shifting the conversation from the option of the firing squad, which Powers suggested was “the most humane” way to end the life of inmates, to that of hanging — a method of killing with deep racial overtones.
The president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP Gloria Sweet-Love issued a statement also, responding to the comments made on the last day of Black History Month, News Channel 5 reported.
She first explained the context of the comments, quoting the congressman verbatim.
“While debating the firing squad as a method of execution in the House of Representatives’ Criminal Justice Committee, Representative Paul Sherrell stated: ‘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?’ ” She added,
“Representative Sherrell’s comment is beyond disgusting.”
She continued, “He is celebrating a particular form of execution used against African Americans in Tennessee and across the nation, including innocent and wrongfully convicted persons. In many parts of the South, lynchings took place in nearly every county as it exemplified racialized and anti-Black violence,” Sweet-Love reminded the public.
Charlamagne queried about Sherrell’s past growing up in Tennessee. “What do you think he was hearing as a young child in Tennessee from the older people around him in that time,” he asked.
“What do you think they were instilling in young Paul’s head? Do you think they were telling him about the “good ‘ol days” when lynching was a public spectacle, a celebration of white supremacy? It sure sounds like it.”
Tennessee, according to sources, ranks sixth in the nation in the number of lynchings — behind Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.
The Equal Justice Initiative shows there have been 236 reported lynchings in Tennessee between 1877 and 1950.
The NAACP defines lynching as “the public killing of an individual who has not received any due process.” The organization further states that historically “these executions were carried out by lawless mobs, though police officers did participate, under the pretext of justice.”
The NAACP has had a long history of condemning this form of domestic terrorism, saying the “barbaric practice” has been used against Black people in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Sweet-Love stated Sherrell’s comments referenced “to the most detested form of racialized violence,” before demanding he apologize and that House leadership “condemn statements advocating racialized violence.”
As a response, the elected official who offered the amendment, issued a statement through the House Republican Caucus, saying he “used very poor judgment” when he made the regretful comments.
The apology was published by the press secretary of the HRC on Wednesday, March 1, and stated, “I regret that I used very poor judgment in voicing my support of a colleague’s bill in the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.”
“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 continued to explain. “Although a victim’s family cannot be restored when an execution is carried out, a lesser punishment undermines the value we place on protecting life.”
He added, “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.”
While lynching is often racialized, up until 1913, the Tennessee Department of Correction used hanging as its primary method of execution.