Without a doubt, lynching in the United States is one of the dirtiest stains, if not the single dirtiest, in our nation’s history. Perhaps it even outdoes years of disenfranchisement, internment camps, and the institution of slavery itself. The culture of lynch mobs that was prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one fueled by hate and ignorance. In a formal apology from the Senate floor for failing to enact appropriate laws in the early 20th century, Senator Mary Landrieu proclaimed, “There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility.”  Collective memory in the form of music, art, and literature is prone to remember these episodes as white on African-American violence. While the vast majority of lynching victims were African-Americans, it is important to recognize that these injustices were inflicted on many ethnic minorities across the country. These moments from our not so distant past are links in the chain that brings us to today’s episodes of racially motivated violence.
Recently, the Equal Justice Initiative published a report on the history and prevalence of lynchings in America. The report focuses on the American South in the period between the Civil War and World War II, so naturally it predominantly chronicles African-American lynchings. But what about other persecuted groups? An op-ed piece that ran in the New York Times this week discusses the lesser known tale of Mexican lynchings. These occurred largely in the western and southwestern states, resulting from a fear of Mexican revolution and the general bigotry exhibited by white America in this era. Ken Gonzales-Day is also helping to raise awareness of these stories through his Erased Lynching project and his book, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935, which focuses more specifically on the history of lynching in California.
While the incidence of lynching has dropped off dramatically, racially motivated violence is still far too prevalent in American society. In 1982, Vincent Chin was viciously attacked by two white autoworkers in Detroit, on the night of his bachelor party no less. He was left in a coma and died four days later. Chin, a Chinese American, was targeted after being incorrectly identified by his assailants as Japanese. The rise of Japanese auto companies was indeed a contributing factor to the decline of American automobile manufacturing, including the recent layoff of one of the two perpetrators. Following their altercation, the two men searched for Chin and proceeded to savagely beat him with a baseball bat, leaving him unconscious. They would later plead guilty to this crime. Despite fitting obvious definitions of a hate crime, the two men did not serve a single day of jail time and instead paid fines of $3,780 each in addition to three years of probation. This apparently was the value of a young man’s life.
I would like to think that in 2015 this could not happen. The advent of social media and twenty-four hour information services allowed the nation to react and respond to the recent murders of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and other tragedies in real time. Unfortunately, the case of Vincent Chin has faded into relative anonymity through the years, at least among those not old enough to remember the event when it happened.
It is important to remember that hate has no color. Our duty is to stand up and stay vigilant against any and all perpetrators of such heinous crimes. It is relatively easy to sit here researching articles and stories that detail the audacity of lynch-mob and racially motivated violence. What’s hard is engaging in the unpleasant and difficult conversations that must be had for our society to move forward and truly learn from the past.
 Thomas-Lester, Avis. “A Senate Apology for History on Lynching; Vote Condemns Past Failure to Act.” The Washington Post, June 14, 2005. Accessed February 22, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/13/AR2005061301720.html.