Freshly Squeezed Florida-style Lynch-mob Justice

Posted: July 19, 2013 in activism, ethnicity, trayvon martin

In lynching after lynching in the South, as well as in the North, the alleged perpetrators of the supposed act were many times simply carried out of the courthouse (if they received a trial at all) and tried not by a jury of their peers, but rather by “Judge Lynch” as the term went; “judged”, “found guilty”, and “sentenced” by a lynch mob, usually to death by hanging. The bodies were often then burned, and then, for what appeared at first glance to be for pleasure or for sport, shot at, mutilated maimed and in perhaps the strangest act of all, the body was picked apart for “souvenirs” with the most highly prized body parts–the testicles, etc. being taken home much like a hunter stuffs the head of a deer, or other hunted animal, and placed in a jar, or kept and displayed in some other way, to remind all who dare step out of line the harsh consequences of lynch mob justice. What may have appeared as sport to the outside observer was nothing if the kind. There was something much more sinister and much more complicated going on–the protection and preservation of white supremacy. Families and children would actually gather around the often still smoking, hanging carcass to have their photographs taken. Many of these photographs were even actually turned into post cards that people sent in the US Mail, and over the years the recipients of which, have kept. Occasionally they turn up in attics, yard sales and in some cases, may still be in people’s homes as keepsakes. See Without Sanctuary

In terms of actually finding, investigating and delivering justice, The Florida Justice system did not do much better than a lynch mob. Let’s review. The real killer went free. An innocent black man was executed. The judge and jury chose to look the other way; All that was really missing here was the rope. These kinds of acts of hatred and violence were very much part of the “outlaw south” and are what folks like Jesse Jackson meant when he called the Zimmerman verdict “Old South justice”. As it did back then, and then again on Saturday, the justice system failed yet another black man when it allowed the person responsible for his killing to go free. In this case the man on trial was not the one lynched. In this 21st Century version of a lynching, the events in this case happened out of order: first there was the execution, by a self appointed vigilante of the law, who carried out his punishment with neither a judge nor a jury involved. There was a trial, of the perpetrator of this act, which was meant to draw out the details of the crime, and from the prosecution’s point of view at least, put the system that allowed this horrible crime to happen in the first place, on trial. And there was a jury, who essentially like the kangaroo courtrooms of old, turned their back on this lynching. Allowing the case to be dragged out into the street, metaphorically speaking, and be tried in the court of public opinion and in the process, allow Trayvon’s spirit, memory and soul to be disrespected, ridiculed and destroyed, much like the “swinging black bodies hanging from Southern trees” that Billie Holiday sang about in her protest anthem “Strange Fruit”, based on a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx. “Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”. (More recently Kanye West borrowed from this tradition in his song “Blood on the Leaves” which is one of the tracks on “Yeezus”). The haunting melody Holiday’s coice conjures up images of those southern trees and the strange fruit that was the black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. “Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop.” That song paired with the NAACP’s unsuccessful efforts to pass the Dyer Anti-lynching bill at the time juxtaposed with the absurd need to photograph lynchings in the south on postcards and greeting cards punctuated the need for something to be done allowing the NAACP to somewhat helplessly fly the flag out in front of the national office as they did after a lynching that that read “a black man was lynched today.” People would walk beneath that flag and perhaps noticed it and perhaps some stopped but most simply walked by without a care.

A black man named Will Brown was lynched in Omaha, Nebraska, on September 29, 1919, in similar fashion being pulled from the courthouse and eventually given over to the waiting lynch mob outside. When the mayor of Omaha, a white man, attempted to prevent the mob from doing so, he was nearly lynched himself. He fought them. One man hit the mayor on the head with a baseball bat. Another slipped the noose of a rope around his neck. The crowd started to drag him away. “If you must hang somebody, then let it be me,” the mayor said. They did eventually hang him, from the metal arm of a traffic signal tower at Sixteenth and Harney Streets. He was eventually taken down by a police detective who drove a car into the signal tower and taken to a Hospital where he lingered between life and death for several days, finally recovering. “They shall not get him. Mob rule will not prevail in Omaha,” the mayor was said to have kept muttering in his delirium.

The ensuing race riot which killed several black workers; resulted in a public rampage by thousands of whites who set fire to the Douglas County Courthouse in downtown Omaha, did not do much reinforce Omaha’s reputed Northern racial tolerance. The violence associated with the lynching of Will Brown was triggered by reports in local media that sensationalized the alleged rape of 19-year-old Agnes Loebeck on September 25, 1919. The following day the police arrested 41-year-old Will Brown as a suspect. Loebeck identified Brown as her rapist, although later reports by the Omaha Police Department and the United States Army stated that she had not made a positive identification. There was an unsuccessful attempt to lynch Brown on the day of his arrest. A newspaper. The Omaha Bee, published fabricated stories that simply inflamed the situation. Like so many black men before him, Will Brown, had been falsely accused if raping a white woman.

Florida’a Stand Your Ground, a law which allows one to use self defense one can use-self-defense against whomever they consider to be a threat, has become nothing more than an excuse to use this same kind of lynch-mob form of justice, to destroy black bodies, and get away without any punishment. Considering this history, which is now being increasingly taught in Criminal Justice classrooms and textbooks, make it very clear that in the relatively short history of law enforcement and criminal justice in this country, that only just recently have crimes against black people have even been taken seriously AS crimes; investigated, tried, pursued, etc. They point out the obvious exceptions: lynchings, in which no crimes were ever even investigated, and what we call today black on black crimes. There was a time in this country when a black person had no legal rights so the numerous crimes against them, murder, whippings, mutilation were never (could never be) enforced. And people wonder why black people are untrusting of the American justice system? To paraphrase Ghandi, most people when asked what they think about American justice, might respond in the way he did when asked by a reporter what he thought about Western Civilization. He answered simply, “I think its a good idea”. Is it any wonder then that people, many of whom have lived through this not so ancient history of lynching, or the murder of Emmett Till, or the Rodney King beating and subsequent freeing of the police officers involved, are calling this most recent murder of Trayvon Martin a 21st century lynching?

A group we all need to know about, and sadly precious few people do, is the
AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL or ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, is a conservative, non-profit organization primarily made up of national businesses. The businesses unite around U.S. laws that they all agree should be implemented to prevent crime. One of the laws ALEC supports is the Stand-Your-Ground law. Some of the companies that are a part of ALEC include Yahoo, Visa, and Verizon.

ALEC additionally supports that in order to vote citizens must provide a government issued ID. Other forms of documentation have always been accepted for citizens to vote, which has allowed almost all who are of voting-age eligible to vote. Much of the population does not have a government issued ID, which would prevent them from voting.

It’s increasingly clear to me that this case, this trial is about white privilege in so many ways, and in order to truly understand it, we must unpack whiteness a little here and ask some critical questions: Why is it that a white man on trial for killing a young black man can expect to have the best lawyers; the most expensive representation; the finest coaching as a witness (Zimmerman never moved so much as a muscle during the whole trial) and fully expect without being disappointed in the God-given assuredness of being white, and therefore being rescued from a fate that so many black men know only too well? One word: Whiteness. It never ceases to amaze me how whiteness corrects for itself sometimes. To be blessed with the words: “Not guilty.” Whiteness rushes in to save the day to protect itself. Who paid for the attorneys? Who paid for Zimmerman’s suit? That invisible hand of whiteness that works miracles, that swept the way clear for Zimmerman to get away with that most American of outlaw crimes, a lynching. If the ethnic identities had been the opposite, it would be just another black man on trial.To be blessed with the words: “Not guilty.” Whiteness rushes in to save the day to protect itself. Who paid for the attorneys? Who paid for Zimmerman’s suit? That invisible hand of whiteness that works miracles, that swept the way clear for Zimmerman to get away with that most American of outlaw crimes, a lynching. If the ethnic identities had been the opposite, it would be just another black man on trial.

This brings to mind a poem by Amiri Baraka about the attacks on 9/11 called “Somebody Blew up America”. And it goes a little something like this:

They say (who say?)
Who do the saying
Who is them paying
Who tell the lies
Who in disguise
Who had the slaves
Who got the bux out the Bucks

Who got fat from plantations
Who genocided Indians
Tried to waste the Black nation
Who live on Wall Street
The first plantation
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa

Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God & still be the Devil
Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God & still be the Devil

Who the biggest only
Who the most goodest
Who do Jesus resemble

Who created everything
Who the smartest
Who the greatest
Who the richest
Who say you ugly and they the goodlookingest

These kinds of laws have allowed men like Zimmeman to essentially take the law into their own hands, much like the courtrooms of old. It appears that Mob rule will live on in Dixie.










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