It’s 2023, not 1923. That was five years before Virginia governor Harry Flood Byrd signed into law the Virginia Anti-Lynching Law of 1928. The breaking news last week that members of Oklahoma’s law enforcement were caught on a secret recording talking about killing reporters and lynching Black residents was like being transported back in time to a horrid period in this country’s history.

According to multiple media reports, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association suspended the McCurtain County sheriff and two other staffers Tuesday after they were secretly recorded talking about the despicable acts. Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix were suspended following the unanimous vote.  

Allegedly, the officials were recorded March 6 making threatening and racist statements. One possible defense has already surfaced. The sheriff’s office suggested that the secret recording was altered, possibly violating a state law prohibiting secret recordings by third parties.

The recording was made by McCurtain County Gazette-News reporter Bruce Willingham. Media reports state that when Willingham picked up the recording device, “he discovered that the conversation began with a grisly conversation about a fire victim being compared to “barbecue” before the group turned to talking about his son and hiring hitmen from the Louisiana mafia to take him out.”

“Absolute scum of the Earth,” a social media commenter wrote. “You got caught on tape talking about lynching black people and hanging journalists and now you want sympathy.”

The drama began after Willingham, acting on a tip that the commissioners were illegally engaging in county business after the public meetings were over, left a recording device in the commissioners’ chamber, the newspaper reported.

At one point during the recording, the talk reportedly turned to speculation about who might run against Sheriff Clardy in the coming election. One official was then recorded recalling how a former sheriff “would take a damned Black guy and whoop their ass and throw them in the cell,” the newspaper reported.

“Yeah,” Clardy replied, according to the newspaper. “It’s not like that no more.”

“I know,” Jennings said. “Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damned rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They’ve got more rights than we’ve got.”

How are we still here, one hundred years later? How do we unpack this? Please share your thoughts in the Brand Rewind Facebook group.