A Mississippi senator has landed in controversy after a video of her joking about public hanging went viral online.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be first on the front row,” Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith can be heard saying to a group of supporters at an event hosted by a cattle rancher in Tupelo. The clip was posted by journalist Lamar White Jr. on Twitter, and it has been shred almost 10,000 times and racked up almost 3,000 comments.
The full context of her comment is not clear, however she has since faced fierce backlash, and her African-American opponent called her ill-conceived joke in a state that has a bloody and racialised history around slavery and lynching, “reprehensible".
Hyde-Smith became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress after she replaced Thad Cochran, who had to step down due to health reasons. She faces Democrat Mike Espy in a runoff to decide who will serve the remaining two years in the congressional seat.
If Espy wins, he’ll be the first black senator to represent the state since the reconstruction era.
Of Hyde-Smith’s comments, he added:
They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgement to represent the people of our state.
Lots of people online echoed his outrage.
Following backlash, Hyde-Smith release a statement:
In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. 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.
The NAACP didn’t think so. President of the organisation, Derrick Johnson, said:
Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging’ when the history of African-Americans is marred by countless incidents of this barbarous act, is sick. Any politician seeking to serve as a national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better.