State senator, in defending Hyde-Smith, says return to public hangings would deter crime

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COLUMBUS — A Republican state senator said reviving public hangings could deter crime, just weeks after U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith ignited a national firestorm by saying that she would attend a public hanging with a supporter. 

After a rally for Hyde-Smith on Sunday, State Sen. Charles Younger, R-Columbus, told Mississippi Today he believes Hyde-Smith has sufficiently atoned for her controversial statement. He then added that if public hangings were brought back as a method of execution, “it would deter a lot of crime.” 

Mississippi Senate

State Sen. Charles Younger, R-Columbus

“It’s old news,” said Younger, referring to Hyde-Smith’s remark captured on video Nov. 2 and first published on independent news website The Bayou Brief.

“She said something out of jest that wasn’t the most politically correct thing to say but, you know, I bet you nine out of 10 Democrats would vote to execute the young man that killed the nine black people in the church in South Carolina — the African Americans that were killed in South Carolina. I bet you nine out of 10 Democrats would vote to have him executed any kind of way.”

Younger was referring to Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who murdered nine African American churchgoers in June 2015. In 2017, a federal jury sentenced Roof to death for the killings, which he committed in an historic black church in Charleston.

Hyde-Smith initially declined to respond to the controversy, but later offered an apology, which she delivered last week during a debate with Mike Espy, her opponent in the Nov. 27 runoff for a U.S. Senate seat.

Hyde-Smith’s remarks sparked backlash given that more lynchings occurred in Mississippi than any other state. Most of these lynchings were perpetuated against African Americans by white mobs and many were carried out by hanging. Asked the relevance of Roof’s actions to Hyde-Smith’s remarks, Younger said: 

“Public hanging was an execution style. It wasn’t lynching – it was a public hanging where it had to pass through the courts and it wasn’t a color or a race issue. It was just a means of punishment. And, frankly, if it was back again I think it would deter a lot of crimes.”

Mississippi exclusively used hanging as a form of legal execution until the mid 20th century, but a review of records shows a vast racial disparity in how the punishment was carried out.

Between 1804 and 1940, Mississippi hanged 257 people. The overwhelming majority of them were black men; two were black women. According to a database of public executions compiled by Alabama researchers M. Watt Espy (no relation to Hyde-Smith’s opponent), and John Ortiz Smykla, 200, or 78 percent of people executed by hangings in Mississippi were African American. Of the total number of people hanged, 48, or 18.6 percent were white.

Younger, who has served in the state Senate since 2014, later emailed Mississippi Today stating that he supports Hyde-Smith because she, like himself, is a farmer. 

Younger’s legislative biography states his occupation as a farmer/rancher. Younger, who is chairman of the County Affairs Committee, and his wife have three children. One of his sons, Colton, was sentenced to eight years in state prison for robbery this summer, the Columbus Dispatch reported in June. 

“Yes, she shouldn’t have used that illustration that she used, but I think she’s got a good heart and can work for all the people of Mississippi,” Younger said in an email.

Click here for Mississippi Today’s full coverage of the historic runoff election between Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy.