The US has long had an abysmal record in extra-judicial execution by the mob – the lynching – which is a peculiarly US foible. It is noticeable in the linked Wikipedia article that the authors were desperately looking around for non-US examples of lynchings. And some of the examples are not strictly speaking lynchings at all.
Extra-judicial punishments have been common throughout history, but have almost always been due to the absence of legal authority, or the inadequacy of legal authority. In most cases, US lynchings are in fact a perverse preference for extra-judicial punishment where the legal authority certainly was available – many lynchings involved breaking into courthouse jails to extract the “guilty”.
There are plenty of resources out there on US lynchings including :-
Practically all of these sites concentrate on the racial aspects of lynchings, which is perfectly understandable given that lynchings were one of the many weapons white supremacists used to keep the negro “in his place”.
Yet there is another aspect to lynchings that tends to get overlooked. If you look at the lynching statistics provided by the Tuskegee Institute covering the years 1882-1968, of the total of 4,743 lynchings a total of 1,297 were of “white” people. A total of 27% of all lynchings were of “white” people. Of course that simple classification into black and white may be concealing other race hate crimes – apparently asian and mexican-american people have been classified as white on occasions.
But reading the stories of lynchings shows that the victims of lynchings were from all parts of society – men, women, black, and white. But predominantly black, although the last lynching of a white person occurred as late as 1964 when 2 white people and 1 black person were lynched.
This page tries to explain the white lynchings as either under-reporting of lynchings of black people in the 19th century, or the use of lynchings to punish white people who opposed the repression of black people (such as Elijah Lovejoy). Both of which are true enough.
But it’s missing a point – lynching is a tool used by the racists to repress the black people in the US, but it already existed as a tool (and was used) before the racists felt the need to repress and control the newly freed former slaves. Lynching is a way of obtaining “justice” when a community feels that justice is unlikely to be obtained any other way.
What appears to have happened in the US is that some communities seem to have acquired an entitlement to extreme forms of justice and they are not placated by the perfectly reasonable level of justice provided by the state. After all, in many of the examples of lynchings, the state justice mechanisms were “working” perfectly well – certainly a black person in the South was likely to be flung into prison for almost anything on the flimsiest of evidence. Yet the extremists were not satisfied.
What this reveals is that some in the US feel entitled to impose a level of control on their community that is not sanctioned by the democratic majority of the country as a whole. And a willingness to resort to violence to get their way. Whilst lynchings may be a thing of the past (the last recorded one was in 1981, although there is a case for arguing that this was merely a random killing rather than a lynching), the attitude may still be around … and having an effect on the level of violence in the US.
The anti-gun control fanatics are right to an extent when they claim that “guns don’t kill” but criminals do. If you compare the US gun crime statistics with other countries with similar levels of gun control (and there are some; indeed in Switzerland a significant proportion of the population is compelled to store a fully automatic assault rifle in their home), it becomes obvious that the US has a significant problem with violence. Gun control may be necessary in the short term, but long term the US needs to look at it’s violent tendencies.