Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Lynching Then, Lynching Now
Originally published in Socialist Viewpoint
In the revolutionary spirit of past, present and future revolutionaries, I greet each and everyone of you in attendance with the revolutionary salute: SHIELDS UP!
First and foremost, I want to thank Brotha Patrick Dyer, a good friend and comrade of mine, for inviting me to speak at this year’s Campaign to End the Death Penalty national speaking tour stop in North Georgia. Being born and raised in the projects and war zones in Savannah, I know all too well about lynching and the Iynch mob mentality that, exist in Georgia and the surrounding states. So I have to admit, I am profoundly moved by the honor bestowed upon me to speak with you about this year’s theme: Lynching Then, Lynching Now.
During the Fall of 2008 [October 13, 2008], Ted Koppel, an award-winning journalist and former anchorman for Nightline, hosted a television program called “The Last Lynching.” I’m not sure if any of you have seen this program or not, but this one hour special aired on the Discovery Channel, where Mr. Koppel was the managing editor. While the backdrop of the program offered a look at “how far this country has come on the racial front” and “how acts of hatred and racism have affected the lives of three Americans,” the focus was about the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old Black man who was murdered and then his limp body was hung from a tree across the street from one of the perpetrators’ apartment. The fact that most of you probably never even heard of Mr. Donald’s story and the fact that the program was incorrectly called “The Last Lynching,” I can think of no better way to begin my presentation than to begin it by narrating the story of this innocent, courageous, young man.
Mr. Donald was murdered in Mobile, Alabama, by Henry Francis Hays and James “Tiger” Knowles, two members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Ku Klux Klan in Southern Alabama had met that week and discussed the fact that a Black man was on trial in Mobile, accused of shooting a White police officer. The members of the Klan, including Hays and Knowles, felt that there was a risk that the killer would be acquitted and they were very concerned that a Black man would be able to get away with killing a White police officer.
Ultimately on Friday evening, the jury reported it was unable to reach a verdict since it was “hung.” Infuriated and fueled by that, Hays and Knowles borrowed 15 feet of rope from Hays’ brother-in-law and went out looking for a target to lynch or “harass.” Notice, included is the word “harass,” because some people were of the opinion that the perpetrators only wanted to frighten someone. Anyway, they took Mr. Donald to the middle of a pine forest. The branches on the pine trees were at least 20 feet above the ground so they realized there was no way they could throw the rope over the branch and hang their intended victim. Nonetheless, as they pointed the gun at Mr. Donald, he courageously fought back and ultimately managed to seize the pistol. At that point the two tackled him, knocked him unconscious, went to the trunk of the car and got the rope, placed it around his neck and choked him to death. Afterward, they put his limp body in the trunk and then drove around Mobile trying to figure out what to do with the body. They finally decided to hang it from a tree across the street from where Hays lived.
In spite of it being hung just across the street from where a known racist and member of the KKK lived, amazingly, it was two years before the FBI was able to develop evidence which led them to Knowles, who ultimately cooperated in the prosecution of his co-defendant, Henry Hays.
Hays was convicted of capital murder and was eventually executed for his part in this senseless crime. In fact, to the best of my knowledge and belief, his execution was the first time a white person was ever executed in the United States for killing a Black person, notwithstanding there is documented evidence that thousands-upon-thousands of Blacks have either been lynched or unjustifiably murdered between the end of Reconstruction [mid-1870] and World War II. This within itself should tell us volumes about our so-called criminal justice system and how it regards the lives of Blacks to be insignificant in comparison to others. Another reminder that our criminal justice system is broken can be seen in the fact that Blacks and whites are murdered at relatively the same rate yet 80 percent of those whom have been executed in the United States since its [the death penalty] resumption on January 17, 1977, have been executed for murdering whites, while only 13 percent have been executed for murdering Blacks. These statistics alone send a clear and alarming message to any would-be murderer: Blacks are fair game.
So the question becomes: What is lynching, and does it still exist today?
According to the Establishment and their sympathizers, lynching is the process of putting someone to death by hanging—be it from a tree, bridge, tower, flagpole, or atop of a bonfire—and is executed by mob action and without legal authority. Since Ted Koppel belongs to the media Establishment, it should come as no surprise why he and his colleagues possess a narrow view as to what constitutes lynching. To accept their narrow definition is to deny that James Byrd was lynched in 1998 in Jasper, Texas, where three white men put a chain around his neck, tied it to the back of a pick up truck and then drove his body down a street until he was decapitated. Likewise, to accept their narrow definition is to deny that Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Tamika Wilson, Oscar Grant III, and too many others to name, were summarily executed. No, no, no! We cannot passively accept their narrow definition when we know it does a disservice to humanity, and especially to the family members of those who were lynched.
Understand and understand well, racial hatred and violence, as well as domestic terrorism, have always been the perverted ingredients that prompted the killings of innocent Blacks, Jews, Italians, Native Americans, and other minorities in this country. As activists and revolutionaries, we have a moral and social responsibility to stand up to evil and change the course of history. It shouldn’t matter if the perpetrators or facilitators of these lynchings are Klans, cops, judges or even governors, nor should it matter if the lynchings are done via a rope, gun, lethal injection or an electric chair. In the end, a lynching is still a lynching—plain and simple. Our predecessors, both Blacks and whites, fought against lynching and we should send a clear message that we will fight against it today.
In conclusion, I want to remind you that to be a revolutionary is to be an agent of change, which is virtually impossible to achieve if one doesn’t know what needs to be changed. I also want to remind you that in this past presidential election, this country voted for change and Barack Obama promised it. Therefore, we should hold him accountable to his promise. As a revolutionary, I urge you to continue with your fight to save the lives of Troy Anthony Davis, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the other innocent men and women on death row waiting to be lynched.
From death row, this is Siddique Abdullah Hasan.