Hateful History: Have More Blacks Been Killed By Police Than By Lynchings During Jim Crow Era?

- By Bossip Staff

Since Michael Brown’s life was taken last month, the public has been paying closer attention than ever to the growing number of black lives claimed by the police.

Alarming Statistics On Police Shootings Of Blacks Draws Comparison To Jim Crow Era Lynchings

Yesterday an alarming headline caught our attention: “More Black People Killed By Police Than Were Lynched During Jim Crow”

The story, which ran on BlackLike Moi gathered together a number of parallels raised in aGuardian article by Isabel Wilkerson last month.

To give you the long and short of it, it’s nearly impossible to measure these stats due to a failure to collect accurate statistics on shootings of black men by police AND lynchings during Jim Crow, still the original article is particularly insightful and worth sharing.

About twice a week, or every three or four days, an African American has been killed by a white police officer in the seven years ending in 2012,according to studies of the latest data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That number is incomplete and likely an undercount, as only a fraction of local police jurisdictions even report such deaths – and those reported are the ones deemed somehow “justifiable”. That means that despite the attention given the deaths of teenagers Trayvon Martin (killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman) and Jordan Davis (killed by a white man for playing his music too loud), their cases would not have been included in that already grim statistic – not only because they were not killed by police but because the state of Florida, for example, is not included in the limited data compiled by the FBI.

Even though white Americans outnumber black Americans fivefold, black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed when they encounter the police in the US, and black teenagers are far likelier to be killed by police than white teenagers.

The haunting symmetry of a death every three or four days links us to an uglier time that many would prefer not to think about, but which reminds us that the devaluation of black life in America is as old as the nation itself and has yet to be confronted. Beyond the numbers, it is the banality of injustice, the now predictable playing out of 21st Century convention – the swift killing, the shaming of the victim rather than inquiry into the shooter, the kitchen-table protest signs, twitter handles and spontaneous symbols of grievance, whether hoodies or Skittles or hands in the air, the spectacle of death by skin color. All of it connects the numbing evil of a public hanging in 1918 to the numbing evil of a sidewalk killing uploaded on YouTube in the summer of 2014.

If you’re anything like us, the shooting of Michael Brown, choking of Eric Garner and a number of other unarmed black men over the YEARS has been a combination of infuriating, frustrating, scary and sad. And Wilkerson is right on to make the comparisons she has, particularly about the number of deaths that have occurred without real reason or threat:

It is the ordinariness of the supposed infractions and the very human nature of the behavior of some of the victims that may be most heart-wrenching about both lynchings of the past and the public killings of today. In both cases, it has never taken very much for an African-American to lose one’s life, whether taking a hog during the time of formal Jim Crow or jaywalking three Saturdays ago in Ferguson. Or, in a stunning case in Brooklyn, New York, 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury Jr., unarmed and with no criminal record, was killed in 2004 as he walked up a stairwell. The officer who shot him said that he had been startled. A grand jury refused to indict.

Yet another common thread that Wilkerson drew between police shootings and lynchings is the visibility of these murders and the lack of empathy by whites:

Lynchings were spectacles with hundreds if not thousands of witnesses and were often photographed extensively. Now, much of the recent police violence has been recorded as well. The chokehold killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York, the beating of great-grandmother Marlene Pinnock on a Los Angeles freeway and the gut-wrenching case of 17-year-old Victor Steen, tasered while riding his bicycle and then run over by the police officer in Pensacola, Florida, were all caught on videotape and have reached hundreds of thousands of watchers on YouTube – a form of public witness to brutality beyond anything possible in the age of lynching.

During the era of formal Jim Crow, white Americans were as safely disconnected from the lived experiences of black Americans as polls show that many are today. A Pew study last week found that 80% of black Americans polled, preoccupied by the killing of Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson and its aftermath, felt that the case raised important issues about race. Only 37% of white respondents felt that way, due in part to de facto segregation and a majority status that does not require engagement with those outside their own group.

It’s important to remember that while public lynchings have pretty much ceased to exist — they wouldn’t have without a lot of public outcry. Regardless of whether or not police killings of black men outnumber lynchings during Jim Crow it’s time that we express OUTRAGE over the public murders of our brothers and husbands and children and boyfriends. Fear of black skin is not a reasonable excuse for a police officer to murder an unarmed man. Regardless of the statistics ENOUGH is ENOUGH.


More Stories From Bossip


blog comments powered by Disqus