Mississippi GOP senator declines questions on ‘public hanging’ remark

Mississippi GOP senator declines questions on ‘public hanging’ remark
© Greg Nash

Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) on Monday declined to answer multiple questions about a viral video in which she said that she'd be "on the front row" if she were invited to "a public hanging." 

Hyde-Smith has been fielding widespread pushback over the comment, as civil rights advocates have noted Hyde-Smith's use of the phrase "public hanging" is particularly stark in Mississippi, where nearly one-eighth of the U.S. lynchings of African-Americans took place between 1882 and 1968. 

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The Mississippi senator on Monday appeared at a news conference with GOP Gov. Phil Bryant to announce an endorsement from an anti-abortion rights group.

Reporters questioned her about the remark, with one saying, "Obviously I'd like to ask the senator about the public hanging comment," according to NBC.

"We put out a statement yesterday and we stand by the statement," Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith told local outlet the Jackson Free Press over the weekend that the remarks were "an exaggerated expression of regard."

"In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement," Hyde-Smith told the newspaper. "In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous." 

Reporters at the conference asked Hyde-Smith to expand on what she meant and if she would respond to Mississippi's violent history of lynching African-Americans.

She said she had nothing more to add.

Hyde-Smith is running a heated campaign against Democrat Mike Espy, who would be the first black U.S. senator from Mississippi since 1881.  

"Those comments that we heard, that were published yesterday, are very disappointing," Espy said in a video posted by Time magazine on Monday. "They are hurtful and they are harmful."

"And they are harmful because they tend to reinforce the stereotypes that have held back our state for so long and that have cost us jobs and harmed our economy," Espy added. "I mean, this is 2018. We are going here in Mississippi into the third decade of the 21st century and we just should not have this."  

"Any politician seeking to serve as the national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better," Johnson added.

The NAACP has also weighed in on the situation, calling Hyde-Smith's remark "sick." 

“Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans is sick," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement. "To envision this brutal and degenerate type of frame during a time when Black people, Jewish People and immigrants are still being targeted for violence by White nationalists and racists is hateful and hurtful."

Espy and Hyde-Smith are facing off in a Nov. 27 runoff election after neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 special election, the Clarion Ledger reported.