Skip to comments.Lynching redefined in South Carolina
Posted on 05/17/2003 5:38:49 PM PDT by Sonny M
JENKINSVILLE, S.C. (May 17) - From the time his son was old enough to understand, Kamau Marcharia has been telling Ramon the story of an ancestor who was tied to the bumper of a Model T Ford and dragged to his death.
Lynching is part of black Southerners' heritage.
But Marcharia was not prepared for the call that came three years ago when Ramon and three other black boys got into a fight with a white boy at middle school and were summoned to court - to answer charges of lynching.
''I didn't even know there was a law like that,'' the veteran civil rights activist says. ''I was outraged. See, a 13-year-old fighting because somebody either pushed him or punched him is not lynching. ...
''When I hear that term, psychologically I cannot get that out of my mind, the picture of some horrible event.''
South Carolina's lynching law, the only one of four in the nation that is still routinely used, was enacted to end the state's long history of white vigilante justice against blacks. But that law has borne strange fruit.
Today in South Carolina, blacks are most often the ones charged with lynching - defined in the statute as any act of violence by two or more people against another, regardless of race.
Though they make up just 30 percent of the state's population, blacks account for 63 percent of the lynching charges, according to an Associated Press analysis of crime statistics.
For every 1,000 blacks in South Carolina, 2.07 were charged with lynching, compared with 0.46 charged per 1,000 whites - meaning blacks are charged with lynching at 4 1/2 times the rate for whites.
In all but two of the state's 46 counties, blacks are charged with lynching out of proportion to their representation in the population. In Oconee County, for instance, blacks comprise 8 percent of the residents but 44 percent of those charged with lynching.
Prosecutors and police argue there is no racial profiling behind the law's application, noting that blacks are charged with other violent crimes more often than whites. But its the use of the word lynching that trips Marcharia and others.
''Obviously, the law has outlived its purpose,'' says J. Wayne Flynt, a professor of Southern history at Auburn University. ''Its intent was to stop extralegal violence, essentially aimed at blacks.''
For many, the term ''lynching'' conjures specific images - of black men, accused of some real or perceived crime, pulled from jail cells by torch-carrying white mobs, strung up from trees and mutilated.
When South Carolina's legislature passed its anti-lynching law in 1951, it was responding to just such a case - the highly publicized murder of Willie Earle, who was dragged out of jail by a white mob and gunned down in retaliation for the death of a cabbie.
It was in Greenville County in the state's western Appalachian foothills that Earle's slaying occurred - and that is where the statute is invoked most often today.
Between 1998 and 2002, 446 people in Greenville County were charged with lynching. Blacks make up 18 percent of the county's population; they comprised 47 percent of the lynching defendants whose race was specified.
At the other end of the state lies Charleston, where nearly half of the black slaves entering the country arrived. Charleston County charges more blacks with lynching than any other - 271 in the past five years. That county is 34 percent black; blacks accounted for 69 percent of those charged.
Of the nearly 4,000 adults charged by police with lynching since 1998, only 136 have been convicted of that offense. Most such charges are amended to assault or dismissed in court. But of those convicted, blacks account for 67 percent - twice the rate of whites.
During the same five-year period, nearly 1,400 juvenile lynching charges were filed; it was unclear how many of those ended up in adult court.
Still, the statistics suggest the racial gap among minors is even wider than for adults. In 2002, the only year for which a breakdown was immediately available, 231 black youths were charged with lynching - more than 10 times the number of white juveniles.
''It's ironic at least,'' says William Gravely, a University of Denver history professor who was a 7-year-old boy living in Greenville County when Earle was lynched. ''In one sense it's a kind of denial of the large historical record going back to the late 19th century.''
It's worse than ironic to Tom Broadwater, a former attorney who travels the country with an exhibit of photographs showing the horror of lynchings.
When Broadwater practiced law in South Carolina, he represented many fellow blacks on lynching charges. Most, he says, stemmed from what he considered simple assaults.
''There's an attempt to minimize the seriousness which the word 'lynching' carries with it,'' Broadwater says.
Of course, some lynching charges in South Carolina have involved brutal attacks, and the penalties for convictions are stiff - up to 40 years for first-degree lynching, involving a death, and 20 years for second-degree. (The statute allows for the death penalty in first-degree cases, but prosecutors could not remember the last time it was pursued.)
In 1996, a white couple in Clarendon County were charged with lynching after allegedly tying a 9-year-old black boy to a tree, shooting a gun past his head, punching and kicking him, and tying a belt around his neck until he passed out. They were convicted of aggravated assault and served less than two years.
Three years later in North Charleston, several black high school students wielding pipes and trash cans were arrested on lynching charges after a 35-year-old white man was beaten into a coma and eventually had to have a portion of his brain removed. One of the attackers was allegedly heard saying: ''Yeah, we're going to get us a white boy.'' Six pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In Beaufort County last year, two middle schoolers were charged with second-degree lynching when a 14-year-old boy collapsed after being repeatedly punched in the chest as part of a new-kid initiation. When the boy died, the charges were upgraded to involuntary manslaughter.
The only other states with lynching statutes still on the books are California, Virginia and West Virginia, though the laws are rarely used.
South Carolina's law was adopted amid the Truman administration's efforts to pass a federal anti-lynching statute - and under the long shadow of Willie Earle's slaying.
On Feb. 15, 1947, taxi driver Thomas W. Brown was found outside Pickens, about 500 yards from his cab. He had been stabbed three times and robbed. Earle was picked up the next day and lodged in the local jail.
The following day, a mob of white men - many wearing taxi drivers' caps - stormed the jail and took Earle. He was found about two hours later in neighboring Greenville County; he had been beaten, stabbed and shot in the face with a shotgun.
Then-Strom Thurmond ordered a vigorous investigation, and 31 men were quickly rounded up and charged. Despite confessions from 26 of the defendants, all were acquitted.
Federal officials launched a civil rights investigation, but nothing came of it. Earle's widow received $3,000 in state compensation.
Although Greenville County is home to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, it remains the only county in the state without an official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Whites there are charged with lynching more often than blacks, but a 1994 case involving black youths is notable.
Kevin Garnett, who would go on to star in the NBA, was 1994's Mr. Basketball when he and four other black youths at Mauldin High School were charged with second-degree lynching for a fight in which the white victim suffered a fractured ankle. After they went through a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders, the charges were dropped. Soon afterward, Garnett's mother moved her family to the Chicago suburbs.
So when Garnett became the first player in 20 years to go straight from high school to the NBA, it was from Chicago's Farragut Academy, not Mauldin High.
Betty Strom, deputy solicitor for Greenville County, says many of the charges are amended or dropped before trial because of the difficulty in proving premeditation.
''If I'm prosecuting it, obviously I feel they meet the elements of the statute,'' she says. Race plays no role in the decision, she adds.
Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg isn't surprised that blacks are charged with lynching twice as often as whites. In his jurisdiction, it's like that with just about all crimes.
Greenberg - a descendant of Southern blacks and Russian Jews - says he was surprised at the term lynching's local usage when he arrived in Charleston 22 years ago. But now he's been enforcing the law for two decades, mainly as a tool against gang activity.
''I'm not consumed by the race issue,'' says Greenberg. ''The historical meaning of the thing has no effect on me whatever. We're beyond it.''
Gravely thinks the state's anti-lynching law was passed as a pre-emptive strike against the feds, as much a ''states' rights move'' as a moral imperative.
Marcharia has approached legislators about amending the lynching law to better reflect the word's historical meaning, but to no avail.
Trey Walker, a spokesman for state Attorney General Henry McMaster, says that while McMaster is ''sensitive and sympathetic to feelings associated with the term,'' there is nothing racial about the lynching law's construction or its application.
''There no reference to race in the statute, so it applies to anyone, any two or more people who commit an act of violence,'' Walker says. ''The law is colorblind.''
But Marcharia says the law as it has come to be used in South Carolina is an affront to blacks.
''That law was passed, in my judgment, to make sure that African-Americans, two generations from now or two decades from now, will lose the memory of their history, what happened to them,'' says Marcharia, whose full name is Swahili for ''black warrior.'' ''That kids born in that period of time will see lynching as a fist fight, when we know that lynching is murder and killing, burning people and evil.''
Ironically, when I was in grade school 30 years ago in Illinois, we didn't call it lynching. We called it nig*** fighting. Thats the way they fought, by ganging up on white students. Its true. At my highschool, at lunch time, the black students would all sit on the benches that lined one of the halls and try to pick fights with a white student as he walked down the hall.
When blacks stop engaging in violent criminal acts, they will stop being charged with violent criminal acts. It is that simple.
But its the use of the word lynching that trips Marcharia and others.
Yeah, the term is a bit old-fashioned.
The proper term for gangs of thugs violently assaulting individuals are "beat-downs" as in:
"Antwan, Shawntroy, Demetrius and LeVonn gave William a 'beat-down' in school today."
They should get the slang right. It will give the law "Street-cred."
Don't you just love those scuzzy, bizarre, tacky monikers they dredge out of some booklet they bought from Calypso Louie for 19 dollars and 19 cents? Like Kwanza, such names are rooted in nothing more than some blacks' obsessive desire for cultural, religious and social apartheid from the white devil. Very pathetic - Hey Louie and and Jesse and Sharpie Sharpton and all your sad sack supplicants, the choice is easy - - assimilate and rise up or do your black apartheid nonsense and remain irrelevant.
SHUT THE F*** UP!!!
Your little darling of a son joined up with three other boys and beat the s*** out of someone!!!
And that was three years ago. Where is your son now? How many others has he beat the s*** out of? What kind of rap sheet does he currently possess? And you, Mr. "Black Warrior" have some nerve whining about words!
Finally, who gives a f*** what you think. Your kid is a thug who victimizes other kids.
GOD, I HATE PEOPLE LIKE THIS!!!
The same is true of anti-discrimination laws. I once worked for a federal agency where I was harassed relentlessly. Unfortunately, I couldn't prove that it was based on my gender, religious belief, national origin, sexual preference or skin color.. I was the first person this guy harassed, and there was no other history to compare to. The SOB was out to ruin my life. I filed a grievance with the union, and they refused to hold the federal agency to their own union contract. Deadline after deadline passed without response. They allowed the harasser to continue with his torment. Eventually they reassigned him to another facility, in my husband's chain of command. My husband then became the target of harassment, Then his boss, then his best friend ...
After a couple of years of having this goon turn his torment on employee after employee, one victim finally had enough sense to look at all of us who had been harassed, and saw a connection. We were all Christian (and all ex-military). He filed an EEOC complaint and won.
Because I had filed a grievance, I was informed that I waived my right to any other form of recourse.
Before filing my grievance, I first sought counsel with the representative from the EEOC, and they said they COULDN'T help me, despite the fact that it was obvious I was being harassed, because I couldnt prove the harassment was for one of their favorite causes.
Additionally, the harasser was of one of the groups protected under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What a kick in the pants that was. My agency was afraid to go after him for the numerous harmful things he was doing, for fear he would sue them.
Eventually he left the agency, but sent an Email to everyone whose address he had and indicated that HE was the victim of harassment.
What a pity that the agency hadn't protected us in the first place. They could have called us as defense witnesses. And what a pity that the EEOC laws PREVENTED us from receiving any protection at all until we could prove that we were one of a protected group!
These laws that are intended to favor any minority group will all eventually harm those it intends to protect, and in the mean time, they hurt all of the rest of us.
The only real difference is who is acting in groups to commit violent acts. That does not make a law against such activity obsolete.
He inherited it.
Oh, so when the violence was primarily whites against blacks, it was a good law to have on the books. Now that the violence is primarily blacks against whites, it's suddenly a bad law to have on the books?