Backlash continues in the wake of Mississippi U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith's deeply troubling comment about being at the ready to attend a public lynching if the Tupelo, Miss., cattleman she was praising asked her to go to one. Now her opponent in a runoff race, Mike Espy, who is black, has called her comment "hurtful," according to Jackson TV station WAPT.
"If he invited me to a public hanging, I would be on the front row," Hyde-Smith, a Republican, said of a local rancher while campaigning November 2. The video wended its way to the publisher of The Bayou Brief, Lamar White Jr., who posted it this past weekend.
Once the fury took off over her comment, rooted in the history of torture and murder of black Americans, Hyde-Smith released a statement void of an apology that lamely attempted to justify her invoking the image of racist torture from the nation's past.
In her statement, Hyde-Smith said she "used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."
On Wednesday, Espy, a Democrat who is the former secretary of Agriculture, said plainly that she should apologize.
"All I am saying is that I am not characterizing it as anything. The comment was disappointing. The comment was hurtful. The comment was harmful," Espy said, according to WAPT. "It was harmful to Mississippians of goodwill who remember what happened decades ago. It is harmful because of the harmful stereotypes that so many people like me have worked to overcome."
Espy and Hyde-Smith are in a runoff race for her Senate seat as neither of them secured 50 percent of the vote in last week's election. The runoff is November 27.
Since the video went viral, the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a statement excoriating Hyde-Smith, NBC News reports.
"Sen. Hyde-Smith should be ashamed of herself," ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins and ACLU deputy legal director Jeff Robinson said in a joint statement earlier this week. "The fact that she chooses to use such repugnant language despite the ugly history in her state speaks to her lack of concern and knowledge about the experience of people who don't look like her."
"To celebrate the chance to sit in the front row of a public hanging demonstrates a profound ignorance of the state's institutional legacy of racism," the ACLU continued. "Sen. Hyde-Smith needs to be held accountable for her words."