In her article called Lynch Law in America, Wells-Barnett recaptures lynching as having been a national crime in the United States of America. She discusses lynching as an act that not only undermined the dictates of elaborate criminal justice procedures but also immoral. In the article, Barnett openly castigates the lynching law in America since it exposed suspected criminals to arbitrary deaths without granting them the right to fair hearing and prosecution. She frames the lynching law as an antisocial process that undermined the natural sense of humanity. Barnet argues that lynching should not be tolerated in a civilized society that is governed by efficient legal systems. In fact from the onset, the author retraces lynching to the West of America in which communities lacked legal systems hence resorted to illegal executions of suspected criminals (Ida 1). Barnet argues that during the era of frequent lynching in the United States, being suspected as a criminal was an adequate death sentence which undermined the dictates of justice.
In a system that relies on strict adherence to the rule of law, the punishment of offenses refers to specific provisions of crime litigation procedures. Nonetheless, Barnett refers to lynching as an unwritten law. The use of unwritten law in this sense implies that crimes were not weighted to determine their gravity and the best form of punishment (Ida 3). In an ideal justice system, the choice of sentence for an offense should commensurate the enormity of that crime committed. Therefore, the author underscores the fact that the generalist dispensation of justice through lynching breached the essence of fairness, the sanctity of every life and various principles of criminal justice (Waldrep 132). In a broader perspective, Barnett alludes to the fact that even though lynching was perceived as a way of dispensing justice, it failed on its merits.
In her writing, Barnett indicts the use of lynching as a form of punching criminals. In fact, she drastically shifts attention from focusing on the enormity of the practice to frame it within the context of racial discrimination, suppression, and repression (Waldrep 153). In the 1960s, racism was commonplace in the United States. Barnett interrogates lynching, especially after its spread from the West of America to the South as a way through which the supremacist whites advanced their suppression of the black people (Ida 4). In her text, she even alludes to the fact that the unwritten rule which implies lynching was to a greater extent exclusively used against the Negros. She postulates that lynching advanced a prima facie sense of guilt on the black people that made it easy for conspirators to kill then for corroborated crimes.
Barnett provides a clear contrast between the intention of lynching as a justice procedure and what it did. She posits that despite the fact that lynching could have been intended to deter crime, it resulted in a hardening of a new crop of criminals. For instance, the publicity given to killing of suspects attracted the attention of children who inevitably developed a causal perception of death. The people who participated in the act of killing too were being hardened to discredit the value of life. She also points out some startling realities of lynching as applied in the then United States. Whereas an efficient justice system should be progressive and crafted in a way that can redress different crimes, lynching was primarily used to target the black people. For instance, black men suspected to have an affair with white women were lynched (Ida 73). Therefore, she narrows down lynching to have been a racial weapon used to promote prejudice against the blacks.
The author tactically used the history of lynching in the US to debunk the ideology that the United States is a free world and home to the brave. For instance, she poses that Brave men do not gather by thousands to torture and murder a single individual. (Ida 5). Furthermore, she compares the actual numbers of whites and blacks who suffered from lynching (Ida 5). From this, it is evident that Barnett concludes that it was not a means of upholding justice for both the offender and offended but rather an attempt by a section of the American society to malign the identity of the helpless and defenseless victims through inspiring hate.
Barnet exposed the gravity of lynching in the United States by juxtaposing an actual number of killed individuals in every state (Ida 6). In listing the state, the number of people lynched and alleged crimes leading to their lynching; she underscored her characterization of the activity as a national disaster. Ideally, it is not justifiable that different people accused of offenses unique from one another can be subjected to the same verdict of death. Death is often recommended as a punishment for capital crimes such as murder in which the life of the criminal is deemed as a threat to the majority well-being. However, Barnett gives lynching a racial outlook by stating that it provided that the black person could not be allowed a trial for certain crimes or alleged crimes (Ida 5). For instance, she lists occurrences such as rioting, self-defense and insulting women as having culminated into the lynching of suspects.
Barnett further faults the world for not protecting the black person from targeted attacks and killings. She inspired the black population to develop ways through which to vindicate themselves from an outright violation of their rights. In this regard, she hails self-help efforts of blacks such as the establishment of the Anti-Lynching Bureau of the National Afro-American Council in ensuring lynching is investigated and such onerous occurrences are published (Ida 6). Ideally, Barnet establishes a strong background for understanding historical events in the United States such as anti-racial discrimination movements and the clamor by the blacks for equality.
Ida B. Wells Lynch Law in America, The Arena Issue 23, No. 1 (January 1900).
Waldrep, Christopher, ed. Lynching in America: A history in documents. NYU Press, 2006.
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