Conservatives May have Restarted Lynching in Ferguson, Missouri
It is difficult to believe victims, especially if the victims are of lynching. Melissa McKinnies’ belief that her son Dayne Jones was lynched and had not committed suicide has not generated a flurry of reporting on the resurgence of what James Cutler called a “criminal practice that is peculiar to the United States.” And yet the possibility that none of the deaths of several prominent Black Lives Matter activists in Ferguson who have died in mysterious circumstances were at the hands of white supremacists strains credibility.
Ferguson sits near the center of a US longitudinal line notorious for white terror. This strip of America boasts of sundown towns, The Knights of the White Camelia, modern day “ghost skins,” U.S. Representative Steve King, the Ozarks region, and, of course, Harrison, Arkansas. Outside of Oklahoma, Missouri is the state with the highest number of lynchings outside of the Deep South. In this space — a space where N-Word saying politicians and media personalities like Joe Walsh explicitly threaten Black Lives Matter with war— is it really impossible to believe that all conservative hands are completely white with innocence? That some good ol’ boys didn’t hop on the I-44 E after some Whatsapp group messages and made a day of it? In this moment of the American right’s most forceful forward march for decades, is it truly so outlandish to consider that a few of the more enthusiastic klansmen, police, alt-rights and friends did not work together to attack the prominent leaders of one of the most threatening movements to white patria potestas over black life in recent memory?
It is not beyond today’s white supremacists to restart lynching. It is not beyond ghost skins to do what they can to facilitate these killings. Conservatives are always given the benefit of the doubt because liberal culture is white supremacist. The noose is an important symbol of white power and it is unlikely that the resurgent spirit that has threatened 19th century activists for black lives with it, or has left it on office doors, or schoolyards, in jokes, around necks, or ankles etc., does not yearn for the day when they could get back to the real thing.
A performance of ignorance has traditionally been an important part of conservative lynch culture. No one would know who broke the accused out of the jail. None of the smiling witnesses could report who slipped the rope around the Negro’s neck, and if they could, the police were stumped about how to proceed. Nothing untoward was involved in the killing of Fred Hampton. No one knew of Byron De La Beckwith’s involvement in the killing of Medgar Evers. The deaths of activists for black life then, as now, were explained by anything but organized assassinations shrouded by sophisticated networks of white terrorists. At the site of a black activist’s death, public shock, a dance of confusion and a resigning pronouncement of unknowability takes hold. Both investigative journalism and the police have reached dead ends and they move on. Certainly, lynch-law went the way of klansmen congressmen, they would say — suggesting they are extinct. As if there was a “National Buy Back Klan Robes” event at the signing of the Civil Rights Act. The regularity of killing black people in broad daylight might, in actuality, militate against considering the possibility of clandestine networks of white terrorists. If you can kill Oscar Cain in full view of everyone is there really a need to have a secret society?
Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five after their exoneration. The spirit of breaking blacks out of the jails to carry them towards lynching ropes is the spirit of the new American administration. It is unlikely that Melissa McKinnies is mistaken. It is more likely that those who’ve regretted for years the newfound difficulty of hanging blacks from trees have now found that this might be their moment — and they’ve seized it.
An act about the casuall killing of slaves
WHEREAS the only law in force for the punishment of refreactory servants resisting their master, mistris or overseer cannot be inflicted upon negroes, nor the obstinacy of many of them by other than violent meanes supprest, Be it enacted and declared by this grand assembly, if any slave resist his master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepensed malice (which alone makes murther ffelony) should induce any man to destroy his owne estate.
Act of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1669
Act I, 2: 270