united States

Lynch Law Was Never Repealed

By Glen Ford

In the year 1900, the great Black activist and journalist Ida B. Wells wrote an article called “Lynch Law in America.” It began with these words:

“Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an ‘unwritten law’ that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.”

In Cleveland, this week, 13 police officers, 12 whites and one Hispanic, fired 137 bullets at a Black man and woman after a high-speed car chase. No weapon was found on their bullet-riddled bodies. Community members charged the victims were lynched.

Less than two weeks before, in Jacksonville, Florida, a white man who didn’t like Black teenagers playing loud music at a gas station fired eight or nine shots at 17-year-old, unarmed, Jordan Davis, killing him. The middle-aged shooter claimed he was justified by Florida’s “stand your ground” law that allows white people to act out their fears, hatreds, or mood swings with impunity—the same claim made by another Florida gunman when he executed 17 year-old Trayvon Martin without trial or “right of appeal.”

Young Trayvon drew his last breath in time to be listed among the 120 Black people known to have been extra-judicially executed in the first six months of this year—one killing every 36 hours. The report, compiled by a handful of people for the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, had to be pieced together from news clippings and other sources. That’s because there is no data base on the extrajudicial killing of African Americans, a practice that is not considered a crime, based on America’s “unwritten law.” In fact, it’s treated even more casually than a sport—at least in sports they keep statistics.

Ida B. Wells kept statistics. She and a few colleagues tallied 3,436 lynchings of Blacks in the 33 years between 1889 and 1922. Eighty-three of the victims were women. Lynching reached its high-water mark in 1892, when 160 African Americans were slaughtered because of their race. That number will be far exceeded this year, at the rate the blood is flowing. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement had hoped to follow in Ida B. Wells’ footsteps with their report; they reasoned that, armed with the facts, Black folks would get fired up enough to launch a modern day movement against lynching—just as Ms. Wells work propelled lynching to the center of the movement of her day. But the 2012 report failed to reach many people, because it was largely ignored—not just by the corporate media, but by much of so-called progressive media outlets and “traditional” Black leadership. That’s because, in the early 21st century, only certain types and classes of Black folks are likely to be extra-judicially put to death, or consigned to the social death of America’s Black Prison Gulag: poor people, like Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, snuffed out like vermin in the Black-run City of Cleveland. For them, lynching remains the “national crime” and the “unwritten law.”

Black Agenda Report, December 5, 2012