‘Lynching’ comments upsetting to Lincoln County lawmakers

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lincoln County lawmakers say they are disappointed in the language shared by a colleague in a Facebook rant, while members of the MS Legislative Black Caucus are demanding his resignation.

Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, apologized on Monday for referring to lynching in a Facebook post Saturday in response to the removal of Confederate symbols in New Orleans. He called the destruction of the monuments “heinous and horrific” and suggested leaders of the city “should be lynched” if they intend to “destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY.”

Rep. Becky Currie and Rep. Vince Mangold along with Sen. Sally Doty voiced their concerns Tuesday over Oliver’s actions.

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“I am very sad that Karl used that language,” Currie said. “It is inappropriate and very upsetting.”

She said it is not indicative of Oliver’s character. “I have worked with Karl for two years now and he has not shown any hatred for anyone in front of me. I hate this for everyone.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn stripped Oliver of his vice-chairmanship Monday. “The Speaker has done what he needs to do and now it is up to Karl’s constituents,” Currie said.

Mangold was also upset by Oliver’s post.

“I agree with the Speaker that the comments were inappropriate and insensitive,” Mangold said. “The actions taken by the Speaker were appropriate. As for being removed, that’s for his district to decide.”

In a public statement apologizing Monday, Oliver asked for forgiveness and said he regrets his choice of words.

“I acknowledge the word ‘lynched’ was wrong,” Oliver said. “I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, an appropriate term.”

Oliver is a funeral director and first-term lawmaker who represents a district that includes the tiny town of Money, where black teenager Emmett Till was kidnapped before being lynched in 1955, allegedly for whistling at a white woman in a grocery store. Till was from Chicago and was visiting relatives in Mississippi. His disfigured body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, and his mother held an open-casket funeral in Chicago. Outrage over his lynching helped spark the civil rights movement.

Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, chairwoman of the Black Caucus, said that members of the Legislature already struggle to work across party, racial and gender lines and Oliver’s continued presence in the Legislature would deter and diminish any further progress among members.

“Rep. Oliver’s apology for using the word ‘lynching’, does not mitigate the sentiment behind the statement and his presence will continue to be a sore spot on the work of the Mississippi Legislature,” she said.

Doty said Oliver’s comments, though offensive, will not impact her relationships with other legislators.

“The comments by Rep. Oliver were inappropriate and inflammatory,” she said. “I cannot speak for other members of the Legislature, but offensive comments from one very junior member of the Mississippi House will have no impact on my relationships with members from another party, race, or gender. In fact, Rep. Williams-Barnes and I are co-hosting a panel discussion and networking reception for young women interested in public service later this week.

“I am very intentional about developing good relationships with my colleagues so we can work together for the good of our state.”

The MS Legislative Black Caucus is boycotting the upcoming Southern Legislative Conference as a part of its ongoing protest against the Confederate symbols on the state flag.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to fight racism and to move our state forward. Mississippi is losing millions of dollars in tourism and economic development because of our unwillingness as a state to move past our sordid racial history,” Williams-Barnes said.

Oliver’s statement and the Confederate symbol on the state flag go hand in hand in sending the message that all are not welcome, she said, adding that changing the flag is a direct action moving in the right direction as a collective body and it is the right thing to do.

She called Oliver’s apology a mere protocol that isn’t enough. She urged her colleagues to change the flag and demand Oliver’s resignation.

The ACLU of Mississippi has called for Gov. Phil Bryant, Speaker Phillip Gunn and the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives to initiate a preliminary investigation of his statement as a violation of the Code of Ethics, other House rules, and written policy of the House adopted by the Management Committee, statute or Constitution.

“Apologies are not enough,”  said Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins. “Especially in today’s politically polarized environment, we must demand much more from our elected officials. Criticizing the statement made by Oliver is woefully inadequate. When a government actor suggests lynching as the way to protect monuments to a culture of white supremacy, it is time to do more than criticize.”

Becky Currie

Vince Mangold

Sally Doty