Tennessee Republican Lawmaker Apologizes For ‘Lynching’ Amendment Suggestion

A Tennessee state representative has apologized after proposing that the state make public hangings a valid form of execution. The comment has drawn significant horror and backlash within the state and across social media, where a video of the lawmaker’s remarks went viral. The controversy comes as debates over the death penalty and racism in the criminal justice system continue throughout the country.

The post Tennessee Republican Lawmaker Apologizes For ‘Lynching’ Amendment Suggestion appeared first on Blavity.

Rep. Paul Sherrell’s remarks came on Feb. 28, as Republican Dennis Powers proposed legislation that would revive the use of firing squads as a form of state-administered execution for death row inmates. “I think it’s a very good idea,” Sherrell said of the firing squad proposal before adding, “Could I put an amendment on that it would include hanging by a tree, also?”

At the time, Sherrell’s suggestion drew little reaction from the other legislators in the room. However, significant outrage to the remarks grew from several sources.

“Tennessee Republican state legislator Paul Sherrell says on the floor of the House he wants to bring back lynching,” announced writer Chris Evans in a tweet about the proposal.

“This is UNREAL!” exclaimed civil rights attorney Ben Crump on Twitter.


The Tennessee Holler posted Sherrell’s remarks and noted he is the same legislator who proposed changing the name of John Lewis Way to Trump Boulevard.


Faced with the backlash over his comments, Rep. Sherrell apologized for his suggestion while doubling down on his support for the death penalty. “I sincerely apologize to anyone who may have been hurt or offended,” Sherrell said on Wednesday, according to a report by The Tennessean. Nevertheless, Sherrell claimed that his hanging comments were not to be taken literally, but he supported the death penalty. “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,” Sherrell explained, adding that he was attempting to advocate for the families of crime victims by supporting the death penalty.

The original proposal to bring back the firing squad in Tennessee replaced the state’s lethal injection procedure, dismissing objections from groups like the Southern Christian Coalition that reject the death penalty altogether and warn against going “back to the dark days of Jim Crow.” The Equal Justice Initiative has identified 236 instances of Black people being lynched in Tennessee between 1877 and 1950. These examples of mob violence against Black people in Tennessee were part of a campaign of terror against Black people during this period; the EJI has documented 4,400 instances of lynching across 12 states. Shockingly, lynching was not designated a federal hate crime until 2022 with the passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.

Even as Congress has belatedly outlawed lynching, various states are debating expansions to the death penalty. In addition to the Tennessee debate, Republicans in Idaho recently voted to add a firing squad as a form of execution in that state. And former President Donald Trump has reportedly indicated that if he wins reelection, he will expand the use of the federal death penalty and increase options to include firing squads, hangings or possibly even guillotines.

These Republican efforts to expand the death penalty appear to be part of a trend toward more extreme proposals and laws from the GOP. Meanwhile, the specific debate over capital punishment feeds into a discussion driven by progressives over the injustices of the criminal justice system. Even with Sherrell’s partial apology, the topic in Tennessee and across the country is far from over.