Tennessee Black Caucus calls on Rep. Sherrell to resign after "hanging by a tree" remark

Representative Paul Sherrell
Posted at 4:50 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 21:18:22-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Some members of the Tennessee Black Caucus are calling for a lawmaker to resign after what they call "wrong, unjust, and racist" remarks.

"I was just wondering about, could I put an amendment on that that would include hanging by a tree also?" said Rep. Paul Sherrell, a Republican from Sparta, during a Tuesday Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting.

Sherrell was referencing a bill that would reinstate the firing squad as an execution option in Tennessee. After Sherrell uttered those words, it set off a firestorm of controversy, including statements from the NAACP and a tweet from Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump.

Representative Justin Pearson, a freshman Democrat from Memphis, took a different tact. Using the welcoming and honoring portion of Thursday's House floor session, he named off Shelby County victims of lynching.

"All of these names that I have mentioned are people who were extrajudicially killed at the hands and in the service of white supremacy," said Pearson.

After Speaker Sexton cut off Pearson's mic for being out of order, Pearson continued to shout his remarks on the house floor.

"Representative Pearson, you are out of order," declared Speaker Sexton, along with a loud pound of his gavel. "Do not come out of order again. Leader Camper, I’m asking for your assistance back there please."

Later on the floor, Representative Sherrell read off the statement he sent reporters Wednesday night, apologizing for his controversial amendment.

"I’d like to say that I regret that I used some very poor judgment in voicing my support for a colleague’s bill in Criminal Justice committee. My aggressive comments were unintended to convey my belief that for the cruelest and most horrendous crimes, a just society requires the death penalty in kind," said Sherrell, reading from a piece of paper. "I sincerely apologize to anyone whom may I have hurt or offended. Thank you."

The words rang hollow to members of the Tennessee Black Caucus.

"Didn’t smack of sincerity; doesn’t seem to be enough," said Rep. Sam McKenzie, a Democrat from Knoxville and Chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus. "I’m begging, come on, the GOP needs to come out and call this what it is."

Speaker Sexton said he didn't approve of Sherrell's remarks but left it at that.

"I think if you saw, he apologized on the house floor for those comments being inappropriate earlier today," said Sexton.

Members of the Black Caucus had different takes on what should happen next.

"He needs to be removed from all of his committees immediately," said Sen. London Lamar, a Democrat from Memphis.

"I think that Representative Sherrell ought to resign," said Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Democrat from Bolivar.

They all seem to agree this is a moment that can't go unnoticed.

"Because if we don’t stop it now, others will be emboldened," said Camper, a Democrat from Memphis and the Minority Leader in the House.

If Sherrell's name sounds familiar, it's because he's the same lawmaker that proposed a bill to rename a portion of Rep. John Lewis Way in Nashville after former President Donald Trump. So far, that bill hasn't advanced very far in committee.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to Speaker Sexton's office to see if he plans to punish Sherrell in any way, but so far we haven't heard back.