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.