Lynching: the myth, the denial, the reality

See below Charles Blow’s excellent article in the New York Times about Baltimore demonstrations.
Below that is a response from Tina Trent, a reader of that article.
Below that is my response to Trent.

‘Lynch Mob’: Misuse of Language

APRIL 27, 2015

Freddie Gray was the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died of grave, mysterious injuries after being taken into police custody. Gray’s family, citizens of Baltimore and indeed those of the nation have questions. And yes, there is a palpable frustration and fatigue that yet another young person of color has died after an encounter with police officers.

So, there have been protests. But protests are not the same as a lynch mob, and to conflate the two diminishes the painful history of this country and unfairly slanders the citizens who have taken to the streets. Maybe Mr. Ryan is unaware not only of the history of lynching and lynch mobs in America overall, but also in Maryland itself.


The report continued: “Sources are conflicting regarding many of the details of the assault on Denston and the subsequent murder of George Armwood, but what is certain is that on the evening of October 18 a mob of a thousand or more people stormed into the Princess Anne jail house and hauled Armwood from his cell down to the street below. Before he was hung from a tree some distance away, Armwood was dragged through the streets, beaten, stabbed, and had one ear hacked off. Armwood’s lifeless body was then paraded through the town, finally ending up near the town’s courthouse, where the mob doused the corpse with gasoline and set it on fire.”

As Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper reported at the time, in addition to Armwood’s blackened skin, mutilated face and missing ear, his tongue was “clenched between his teeth,” giving “evidence of his great agony before death.” It continued: “There is no adequate description of the mute evidence of gloating on the part of whites who gathered to watch the effect upon our people.”

Additionally, according to the historical society, there were 32 lynchings in Maryland between 1882 and 1931.

Perhaps Mr. Ryan had never heard the haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit” recorded in 1939 by Billie Holiday, with its plaintive lyrics shining light on the depravity of lynchings:

Maybe Mr. Ryan does not appreciate the irony that it was not the officers’ bodies that video showed being dragged limp and screaming through the street, but that of Mr. Gray. Maybe Mr. Ryan does not register coincidence that actual lynching often damages or cuts the spinal cord, and according to a statement by the Gray family’s attorney, Gray’s spine was “80 percent severed at his neck.”

And this is not the first protest of the killing of people of color where “lynch mobs” have been invoked.

Possible presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also compared Ferguson protesters to lynch mobs, as did Laura Ingraham, FrontPage magazine and an opinion piece on The Daily Caller.

In 2013, after almost completely peaceful protests the weekend after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Newt Gingrich said that protesters were “prepared, basically, to be a lynch mob.”

These “lynch mob” invocations are an incredible misuse of language, in which the lexicon of slaughter, subjugation and suffering are reduced to mere colloquialism, and therefore bleached of the blood in which it was originally written and used against the people who were historically victims of the atrocities.

“Lynch mob” is the same ghastly rhetorical overreach that is often bandied about in political discussions — including in this column I wrote seven years ago. It was a too-extreme comparison then, and it’s a too-extreme comparison now.

Nothing that political partisans or protesters have done — nothing! — comes remotely close to the barbarism executed by the lynch mobs that stain this country’s history.


Tina Trent
Florida 1 hour ago
Millions of rapes, hundreds of thousands of murders, many millions of brutal assaults and armed robberies and burglaries — communities destroyed and property devalued and people terrorized on a daily basis, year after year. We’ve had half a century of this story, yet you suppress it.

The lynching era is history, and horrific as it was, the death toll was very small — and you along with historians have conveniently left out the fact that most lynchings were the result of horrific, real crimes with victims, including black ones. Along with the horror of lynching, the horror of those crimes are part of history too — including crimes visited on black victims by the men who were lynched. It is part of the story, but suppressed.

Meanwhile, violent crime, intimidation, and mass destruction that has largely — and in recent years virtually exclusively — been visited upon society by black men since the 1960’s is, what, verboten? The armies of journalists and judges and lawyers and professors who enable criminals to commit violent crimes without consequences are indeed the lynch mob of today, arm in arm with the criminals who commit those crimes. And their victims are both black and white though in recent years largely black. The title is richly deserved: lynch mob, enablers of mass violence against innocents and mass destruction.

To deny the fact and human toll of violent crime perpetrated over the last 50 years earns another title too: historical denier.

Markk Seattle Pending Approval                                                                                        It is my impression you are opposed to legal due-process for the accused. It is noteworthy that along with maligning “armies of journalists and judges and lawyer and professionals”, you omit citing societal dynamics that contribute to criminal activity. These include inequities in education and employment, the criminal-justice system, and (deny it though you will) the endemic disease of racism that has remained at the core of US culture.      Your mindset will not allow you to recognize racism within you – despite your soul-deep antipathy towards black people.                                                                                                       An an American, I feel racism within myself. It’s a lingering malady which I do my best to keep from directing my reactions and thinking.  Try it.

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