The EJI study is blunt and forthright in its conclusions, stating, “These lynchings were terrorism…African-American men, women, and children were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided…Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized Black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials…many African-Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens).”
In tying the trauma and systemic violence of lynchings to mass incarceration the study illustrates how the acceptance of casual death and suffering through lynching is present in the current criminal justice system by stating, “Mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were shaped by the terror era.”
Walton goes on to explain that “there is something different about Mississippi; something almost unspeakably primal and vicious; something savage unleashed there that has yet to come to rest.” To prove his point, he notes that, “[o]f the 40 martyrs whose names are inscribed in the national Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, 19 were killed in Mississippi.” “How was it,” Walton asks, “that half who died did so in one state?” — My Mississippi, Your Mississippi and Our Mississippi.
At left: Ferguson, Missouri, 2014, where a body was left in the street for four hours in the August sun. At right: Paris, Texas, 1893. Photographs: JB Forbes / St Louis Post-Dispatch via AP; Wikimedia Commons
Not terribly long ago in a country that many people misremember, if they knew it at all, a black person was killed in public every four days for often the most mundane of infractions, or rather accusation of infractions – for taking a hog, making boastful remarks, for stealing 75 cents. For the most banal of missteps, the penalty could be an hours-long spectacle of torture and lynching. No trial, no jury, no judge, no appeal. Now, well into a new century, as a family in Ferguson, Missouri, buries yet another American teenager killed at the hands of authorities, the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.