We think we’re post-racial and that lynching is a thing of the past.
But that’s because we don’t understand what lynching is.
Yes, one is “lynched” if and when one is hung by a rope around one’s neck. We all know that.
But lynching is a little more than that. According to definitions, a lynching occurs if one is murdered by mob rule without legal sanction. That murder may be in the form of a hanging, but doesn’t have to be. It can be a shooting, or a stabbing, or a brutal beating. Emmet Till was lynched, being beaten to death and thrown into a river. James Byrd was murdered by three men and dragged along a road by a pick-up truck . Matthew Shepard was beaten to death …
Those are lynchings. It still goes on, these murders by mob violence, with governments and law enforcement still looking the other way. The death of 17-year old Kendrick Johnson feels like a present-day lynching, which would have gone ignored had it not been for his parents and community who refused to stop trying to find out what really happened to him. It feels a lynching..
I would say that in this country, while technically lynching does not have legal sanction, one of its horrible identifying marks is that DOES have and that it has been, in fact, sanctioned and supported by the law. Had it not been for Ida B Wells Barnett and the people who worked with her, one has to wonder if we would still be seeing bodies hanging from trees.
There were anti-lynching bills introduced to the United States Congress in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, but there was never a law. Filibusters, primarily by Southern lawmakers, prevented that. The legislature, charged to make laws to protect American citizens, didn’t do its job. Congress apologized for that in 2005.
One might argue that lynching doesn’t happen anymore. Some might naively offer that there is no more mob violence, But mobs (sometimes only two or three can make up a mob) still produce acts of domestic terrorism on individuals, be they black, gay, or despised for any number of other reasons, and mass incarceration seems like mob violence of the most vile sort, a systemically violent experience again supported by the legislative and judicial branches of government.
When I was in middle school, a fellow student said that one cannot legislate morality. True. We were talking about lynching and how it was wrong, and this student, a white female, protested that there was nothing that could be done.
On some levels, perhaps she has a point. Laws cannot produce compassionate individuals.
But the murder, demonization and decimation of human beings, American citizens, ought to stir up outrage enough that laws are passed that say this nation believes in the human rights of all people, not just people overseas. Lynching still happens, and it is unconscionable.
A candid observation …