Researchers for The Lynching in America report documented 4075 lynchings of African Americans in twelve states; Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama 1877-1950. In 2017 researchers found racial terror lynching’s most common in eight states; West Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, Indiana, Kansas, and Illinois.
Lynchings were violent public events largely tolerated if not supported by state and federal officials. Lynching was and remains a method of American terrorism, used to reinforce racial subordination. One could be lynched for simply looking at a White person, from what was called “reckless eyeballing”, or simply bumping into a White person. One could also be lynched for failure to use the appropriate title when addressing a White person. These public spectacles were often carried out on Sunday afternoon while large crowds gathered and during what would later become known as “picnics”, (pic a ni_ _er) this is where the term originated.
The Terror Era
Lynching would serve to reinforce the narrative of racial difference and inequity that remains within our criminal justice system today. Racially biased mass incarceration, capital punishment, and excessive judicial sentences further reveal the racial inequality born in the terror era. The terror era had one specific purpose; to instill terror, panic, and fear in African Americans to reinforce racial subjugation.
In September 2016 A United Nations working group debated at the U.N. Human Rights Council, it included criticism and comparison amid mob lynchings in the 19th and 20th centuries and modern police behavior within the United States. The report said “Contemporary police killings and the trauma they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching” referring to people of African descent. Following the report, anger and resentment over fatal police encounters and tactics involving unarmed African Americans precipitated unrest and protest across the country.
Modern lynching has mostly the same effect on the African American community that it had one hundred fifty years earlier and since. The trepidation, anxiety, and fear African Americans experience whilst interacting with members of law enforcement are a direct result of the immunity from the detrimental effects of their actions towards us.
Herein Lies the Problem
Police violence against members of the African American community goes unpunished in large part to the initial investigations being conducted by the same agency by which the perpetrator is employed. Additionally, the discretion of the prosecutor to file charges. It should also be noted that Police Unions are very powerful entities with huge political influence. In many cases without the support of these powerful Police unions, the successful elections of these same Judges and State Prosecutors would be problematic at best. Herein lies the problem.
August 9, 2014
We have become desensitized to the point we are not recognizing it for what it is, and that is, a lynching under the color of law. The wake-up call for me personally came on August 9, 2014, as the body of Mike Brown lay on the street four hours after being gunned down by a Ferguson, Missouri Police officer. In spite of eyewitnesses reporting his hands were up when he was injudiciously murdered. During the aftermath, I remember my Facebook friends were split down racial lines. Blacks were in support of the arrest, trial, conviction and prison sentencing of this murderous officer. While the whites on my friend list were vigorously supporting the officer and by doing so the institution he represented. They spouted the usual tag phrases, “He should have complied with the officer’s commands, etc.” This in spite of the eyewitness accounts to the contrary, that they conveniently chose to ignore. The only version that was seriously taken into account was that of the involved Police officer. During the following 4 years, every eyewitness would mysteriously be found murdered.
I remember scrolling through my Facebook timeline during this period and becoming livid from reading many of the comments. The excuses many of my White ‘friends’ offered in defense of the Police officer, and conversely the blame placed on this unarmed murdered kid seriously affected me, mentally and emotionally. I needed a safe space to land, to converse with those affected, and could feel and understand my psychological and emotional pain. I could no longer force a smile to those who were so disconnected from our personal suffering as a people. I remember purging my friend list during this time. I have always known since an early age, but this was the realization that law enforcement wasn’t created for people like me.
Several months later, 12-year-old Tamir Rice would die for simply playing in a park, as 12-year-olds are prone to do. We watched collectively the video of Eric Garner as he uttered his last words and struggled through his final breath of life. Strangled to death by an NYPD officer for the heinous crime of selling loose cigarettes. Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Stephon Clark all unarmed and murdered conducting seemingly mundane daily routines and all murdered injudiciously.
The images, however, remain vivid in our minds, of their lifeless bodies. Those responsible not being held accountable, these vivid images burned into our collective psyche; to reinforce the narrative of racial inequality and dominance. The cognitive dissonance of American society is evidenced by its President’s comments, himself undergoing impeachment proceedings; likened it to being “Lynched”. This is an appalling analogy, yet however, is one that shows perfectly the disconnection of which America suffers. It is simply not fair that Black kids aren’t afforded the opportunity to grow up carefree, the way children should.
The Colour of Law
Modern-day lynching is done under the guise of lawful policing, under the colour of law. State-sanctioned violence for the subjugation of a people. A system policing a people it was never meant to benefit.
We must tell our own stories.
The Lion has learned to write!