NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — When asked about what the future holds after a lawmaker made a comment about wanting to bring ‘hanging from a tree’ back as a form of the death penalty, Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) was clear. “This ain’t over,” he said. “This situation is not over.”
Thursday morning, the Tennessee Black Caucus expressed outrage after Rep. Paul Sherrell’s (R-Sparta) comments in a House Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.
“I was just wondering, could I put an amendment on that that would include hanging by a tree, also?” Sherrell asked in the committee, which was discussing an amendment to bring back the firing squad for the death penalty in Tennessee.
Sherrell’s comments came on the final day of Black History Month. On the first day of Black History Month, he introduced a bill to change part of Rep. John Lewis Way in Nashville to ‘President Donald Trump Blvd.’
Lewis was a Congressman who helped lead the Civil Rights movement in Tennessee.
“We lived a 15-generation nightmare in this country,” McKenzie said when asked about Sherrell’s comments.
The Black Caucus called on Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) to, at minimum, strip Sherrell of his committees. Some members in the Caucus went even further, calling for his resignation.
“Are you crazy? You have to be out of your mind talking about hanging somebody,” Rep. Joe Towns, Jr. (D-Memphis) said. “That leads back to that old stuff, that old crap.”
Caucus members contend if something isn’t done, copycat acts could follow.
“I don’t know what that said to some of his other members that they may feel that they can say and do stuff,” House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis) said. “If we don’t stop it now, others will be emboldened.”
Sherrell did apologize for his comments on the floor Thursday. His statement in full:
“I regret that I used some very poor judgment in voicing my support of a colleague’s bill in the Criminal Justice Committee. My aggressive comments were intended to convey my belief that for the cruelest and most horrendous crimes, a just society requires the death penalty in kind. 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. My intention was to express my support of families who often wait decades for justice. I sincerely apologize to anyone who I may have [sic] hurt or offended. Thank you.”
But Black Caucus members say they don’t feel the apology conveyed any sort of real remorse. “It wasn’t personal to the two members that were in the committee room with him,” McKenzie said.
When reporters asked Sexton about Sherrell’s comment, he pointed them back to the apology shared on the House floor.
“I don’t think anyone [approves],” Sexton said. “I think, if you saw, he apologized on the House floor for those comments being inappropriate earlier today.”
News 2 reached out separately to Sexton’s office to see if he had any comment about potential punitive measures for Sherrell. The same goes for Gov. Bill Lee’s (R-Tennessee) office. As of publishing, neither has responded.