What is Lynching?

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A Brief History

On October 24, 1871, a number of Chinese immigrants to the United States (perhaps 17 to 20) were lynched in Los Angeles, California, the victims hanged by the neck until dead by a mob of White and Hispanic Americans.  The mob had heard that a Chinese man or men had shot a lawman and killed a rancher assisting that lawman while trying to effect the arrest of a Chinese man in the Chinatown section of LA known as “Calle de los Negros” (Street of the Blacks).  We previously discussed lynching in the United States, but recent events just in the past day or 2 in the news surrounding President Trump and his possible impeachment has generated allegations that such impeachment proceedings constitute “a lynching of the presidency.”  This characterization, made by President Trump himself and echoed by some of his supporters (including Senator Lindsey Graham) has enraged many African Americans that bristle under the sad and revolting history of lynching in the US.

Digging Deeper

In the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the victims were Chinese Americans, which illustrates that not only African Americans can be the target of mob hatred and violence. The lynch mob of around 500 rioters not only murdered the aforementioned victims, they also attacked many other Chinese people and destroyed as much property as they could before order was restored.  While they were at it, the mob also looted as much in the way of Chinese property and valuables as possible.

Lynching is not a uniquely American phenomena, as other countries have had many sad incidents of their own.   Nor did Americans invent lynching, as people have taken mob rule into their own hands as far back as history goes, but in the United States we date the term “lynching” to a Charles Lynch, who coined the phrase “Lynch’s Law” to mean punishment without trial.  Charles Lynch applied his personal justice to “Tories for dealing with Negroes, &c.”  As a Colonel in the American militia during the American Revolutionary War, Lynch had a lot of discretion in his hands for dealing with slaves and British sympathizers.  It is his actions and name that give us the term, “lynching.”

When Supreme Court nominee (and now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh was being grilled by Senators during his confirmation hearings in he stopped just short of calling the procedure a “lynching,” although a previous Supreme Court nominee (and now Justice), Clarence Thomas did just that back in 1991, during his own confirmation hearings, likening the process to “a high tech lynching.”  People with relatives or ancestors that were actually lynched, brutally murdered by hate mongers, do not take kindly to such comparisons!  People with extreme empathy or sympathy for victims of lynching are outraged by comparisons to such murderous barbarity by whiners that want to “play the victim.”

Real lynching is terrifying business.  An out of control angry mob will trample anyone that gets in their way to get at the intended victim, and the most horrific beatings, torture and killing often ensue, although technically the victim does not have to be killed during a lynching, and may only suffer extreme humiliation or physical abuse.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many irate and angry Americans targeted people that looked vaguely Arabic or somehow “Muslim,” and many of these innocent people were attacked despite in many cases not being of Middle Eastern descent and not being members of the Islamic Faith.  Lynch mobs and haters often do not bother with mere facts and details, and act impulsively, often going after innocent victims because of bad information or mistaken identity.  The highly charged political rhetoric regarding illegal immigration into the US by people of Mexican or other Latin American descent has also raised the specter of attacks and lynch mob mentality against such persons, including a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, when a White Male targeted people of Hispanic descent for murder, killing 22 people and leaving a “manifesto” of racially oriented hate speech.

The subject of lynching, especially in the United States, is an emotional subject and has been studied and reported on extensively.  In 2018, a lynching museum was opened in Alabama.  In 1939, the late great Billie Holiday sang a haunting song, “Strange Fruit,” which addressed the topic of the lynching of African Americans. We encourage our readers to check out our links and references to better understand just how volatile the subject and even the word, “lynching,” is to many Americans.  Like many other skeletons in America’s closet, lynching is not (or at least was not) often taught in schools, and many Americans may not be aware of the deep scars caused by the practice.  A little research can be enlightening.

Question for students (and subscribers): Is it ever acceptable for citizens to take violent action outside of the legal system?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Ginzburg, Ralph. 100 Years of Lynchings. Black Classic Press, 1996.

Ore, Ersula. Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity. University Press of Mississippi, 2019.

Viilanueva, Nicholas. The Lynching of Mexicans in the Texas Borderlands. University of New Mexico Press, 2018.

The featured image in this article, a photograph showing corpses of Chinese immigrants who were murdered during the Chinese massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, California, is in the public domain in the United States.  This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.