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In 1911, Nathan Lacey was taken from his home in Forrest City, Arkansas (named after notorious Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the city, not Mr. Lacey, of course). I don’t know if guns were used if he willingly went because he was in front of his children, but that would be the last time they would see their father alive. Lacey was subsequently tarred and feathered and dragged through the town by his feet. A freefall from a tree made an ironic reprieve from his torture. The perspective the newspaper gave is a bit different than the perspective of his children, who witnessed it. I am sure that if given a trial by jury in 1911, he would have most definitely been found guilty. Not because of insurmountable evidence but because, as a Black man, he would probably not have received a fair trial, but at least he deserved the right to have one.
Since Black people have touched down on U.S. soil, white people have done everything in their power to make sure uppity negroes stay in their place. Slavery was easier, but after slavery, the Reconstruction era found Blacks with new freedoms that whites would never adjust to. The North saw how upset the South was about this and compromised, essentially undoing the freedoms Blacks had during Reconstruction. The post-Reconstruction Era allowed whites to go back to treating Black people like furniture; black codes and Jim Crow laws were a way to heavily police Black people legally. These black codes contained laws around vagrancy and loitering; simply standing in the wrong place for too long or not having a job could easily land a Black man on the chain gang, back in slavery, just this time with stripes. Of course, whites did not have these rules and didn’t have rules that said they were not allowed to govern Black people anymore.
In fact, lynching did not become a federal hate crime until 2022. Yes, that 2022. The last year one. An unbiased examination of today’s criminal justice system could easily deduce that the prison system still targets Black men and jails them for offenses as minor as non-moving traffic violations. The spirit of keeping Black people under control has never left white America (because they clearly have shown how morally correct they are), including private citizens.
In 2012, Trayvon Martin was hunted and murdered by George Zimmerman, a vigilante community college student with aspirations of being a police officer.
While hunting Martin, Zimmerman got his ass kicked by a child and subsequently murdered him in retaliation. Zimmerman was acquitted and went on to continue a history of violence without serving jail time. At the age of 17, Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two protestors at a protest, and while the people he murdered were not Black, he crossed state lines with an assault rifle to police protestors at a rally for Jacob Blake, a Black man, who was murdered by police.
He also was found not guilty.
Both Zimmerman and Rittenhouse had aspirations of being in law enforcement and both participated in organizations, as youths, that were based on having authority. Zimmerman joined the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and Rittenhouse was in the Young Explorers program through his local police department. Both these men went on to be celebrated by extreme right-wing groups. Meanwhile, there are still Black people in jail for traffic tickets.
Fast forward to this week, Jordan Neely was murdered on a train by a former marine. Neely began to suffer from mental illnesses after the murder of his mother by a boyfriend. While on the train, Neely made a speech about being hungry and thirsty and that he was fed up. After tossing his jacket on the ground, he was then approached from behind by an ex-marine who put him in a chokehold, causing his death. Additionally, in a T.J. Maxx, a Black woman who was presumably shoplifting was violently assaulted by another shopper who attempted to stop her from running from the store. He was twice her size while issuing closed-fist punches to her body as she attempted to flee. No one is condoning her theft. Additionally, the bystander had no right to intervene, especially with violence. Especially when loss prevention is literally paid to prevent things like that and still won’t physically stop a shoplifter.
Right Wingers are hailing both these men as heroes. Neither of these men are police officers but felt they had the right to be judge, jury and (possibly) executioner when it came to Black people, just as their ancestors before. Just like the men who kidnapped my great-grandfather in front of his children in Forrest City, Arkansas.
Neither of these men has been arrested; there are still Black people in jail for traffic tickets.