Mississippi legislator says he’s sorry for suggesting lynchings 

Update: Black lawmakers demand his resignation

The clamor grew on Wednesday for the resignation of a Mississippi state legislator who said on Facebook that people who want to remove Confederate monuments should be lynched.

The Black Caucus of the Legislature was joined by state NAACP President Derrick Johnson in demanding that Rep. Karl Oliver give up his seat, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Wednesday.

"Anyone who champions a fond remembrance of such a violent, racist history is unworthy of elected office," Johnson said, according to the Clarion-Ledger.. "Karl Oliver must step down as he cannot in good faith represent all of the citizens of Mississippi.”

» Family reveals 76-year-old secret in Georgia lynching

Oliver, R-Winona, posted the statement Saturday evening and then took it down Monday after it blew up in his face. The news site MississippiToday.org screen-captured the post before it vanished.

Few words in Southern history evoke the specter of racist hatred and terror more powerfully than the word “lynch.” It is perhaps unsurprising that an anonymous caller would phone a lynching threat into U.S. Rep. Al Green’s office. But it’s something else again for a state legislator to post such a threat to his Facebook account.

Oliver wrote that if state leaders “wish to ... destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our state.” 

He apologized Monday, saying in a statement: “I acknowledge the word 'lynched’ was wrong. I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, an appropriate term. I deeply regret that I chose this word, and I do not condone the actions I referenced, nor do I believe them in my heart. I freely admit my choice of words was horribly wrong, and I humbly ask your forgiveness.”

Oliver was referring to the removal last Friday of the soaring statue of Robert E. Lee from New Orleans, which has also taken down three other monuments to the Confederacy.

‘The sentiment behind the statement’

African-American legislators on Tuesday called for Oliver’s resignation, and a Mississippi congressman called for a federal investigation. 

U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., called for the Justice Department to determine whether Oliver was inciting or threatening violence, the Clarion Ledger said.

Thompson’s voice joined a growing chorus of condemnation.

"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," said Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, chairwoman of the Black Caucus, the Associated Press reported.

The AP said 51 Mississippi's 174 state lawmakers are black, and 50 of them are in the caucus. The state's population is 38 percent black.

The news service also quoted Jennifer Riley-Collins, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, as saying she wants the state House Ethics Committee to investigate Oliver.

"There is no question about the nature of lynching," Riley-Collins said, according to the AP. "Blacks were beaten and then hung from trees until their necks were broken or they choked to death, while whites watched, many times in a picnic atmosphere."

She said Oliver "was speaking as a government actor" when he mentioned lynching.

"If accountability means anything, Oliver should be held to account by his peers — unless they are comfortable with the opinions he expressed," Riley-Collins said.

‘Words have very precise meaning’

Few were comfortable with those opinions, from the Republican leadership in Mississippi to Atlantans who work for racial reconciliation. 

“Words have very precise meaning,” said Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson, a board member of the Southern Truth and Reconciliation group. “It’s not about the individual speaking, but the majority of people who hear it and interpret it. 
“If you poll 100 people and say, ‘What does the word lynching mean to you,’ 99 people will say they think of lynching in the historical sense of someone hanging from a tree,” DeGraft-Hanson said.  
He said he understands that some Southerners believe the removal of the monuments is an erasure of their history. But he also said that both sides need to hear each other, even if they ultimately don’t agree.  

“While they may see great-grandpa as a hero for fighting for the Confederacy, the person across the street may see that great-grandpa as having fought to keep his own great-grandpa enslaved,” DeGraft-Hanson said. 

“This is why reconciliation movements are so important. It takes both sides trying to understand where the other is coming from.”

‘No place in civil discourse’

Mississippi Republicans spent the early part of the week distancing themselves from Oliver and his outburst. House Speaker Phillip Gunn denounced Oliver’s statement and stripped him of his assignment as vice chair of the House Forestry Committee.

Gov. Phil Bryant said, “Rep. Oliver’s language is unacceptable and has no place in civil discourse,” Mississippi Today reported.

The Jackson Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s largest newspaper, described Oliver as “a first-term representative who's mostly been a quiet back-bencher in the Legislature.” The state House website lists his occupation as funeral director.

Congressman a target of death threats

From the floor of the U.S. House on Wednesday, Congressman Green, a seven-term Democrat from Texas, called for Trump’s impeachment for obstruction of justice. 

Green says he received phoned-in threats, and he played recordings of some of them at a townhall meeting on Saturday. Some of the callers used racist slurs to refer to Green, who is African-American.

"We are not going to be intimidated," Green said of the threats, according to the Houston Chronicle. "We are not going to allow this to cause us to deviate from what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump."

Capitol police told CNN they are investigating the threats made against Green but declined to comment further. 

"You have to confront hate,” Green told CNN. “... It's unfortunate many African-Americans have to live knowing they can be threatened with lynching."

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