Since the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Dunn, and Michael Brown, there has been all kinds of talk about the American justice system and whether the treatment of Blacks is different from everyone else. There has been impassioned debate from both sides of the argument.
I’ll offer up one sobering statistic that I feel encapsulates one of the primary reasons why Blacks distrust the justice system.
First the set up…
A study of lynchings by the Tuskegee Institute calculated that between the years of 1882 – 1968, there were 3446 Blacks that were lynched in the US. Although lynchings slowed down after that time frame, there were still lynchings that occurred in the US. There was the Michael Donald case in Mobile, Alabama in 1981, which was considered the last lynching. There’s also the James Byrd dragging murder, which has also been referred to as a lynching. There’s no official count or record to show how many of these lynchings were perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, but there’s overwhelming evidence of KKK involvement in many of these deaths.
And now for the head scratcher…
Of all the lynchings carried out or involving members of the KKK in the entire 20th Century, only one member of the KKK was ever convicted of murdering a Black person and was executed as a result of their conviction. One.
That one person was Henry Francis Hays, and he was convicted for the lynching of Michael Donald in March of 1981. He was executed on June 6, 1997 in Atmore, Alabama by electric chair. So, for all the Blacks killed by KKK members after January 1, 1900, it took 97 years, 5 months, and 5 days for a state government to apply capital punishment for the death of a Black man by the hands of a White man. 35,585 days.
Now, there were people who were convicted of killing Blacks in that time. They usually got no more than a 10 year sentence, but that was if they were actually convicted of a crime in the first place. Many killings were either never prosecuted or all White juries refused to indict or convict the killers.
Some people seem to think that dredging up the past does more harm than good. Pretending as though these things didn’t happen does more harm than anything else. You can’t or won’t understand a person’s argument about bias in the system if you refuse to acknowledge the long-term bias built into the system. When we see Blacks still being treated more harshly by the justice system, it’s hard to trust things nowadays given the past applications of American Justice.