Lynching as a Misdemeanor

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Four white San Jose State University students who assaulted a Black teenager for nearly two months have been charged only with misdemeanors, when their crimes actually constitute “felonious battery, terroristic threats, and kidnapping.” The corporate media portrayed the “racist assaults and threats of lynching as nothing more than white rites of adolescent passage” – like “hazing” and “bullying.”


Lynching as a Misdemeanor

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

White society is incapable of acknowledging – or even perceiving, on the cognitive level – the violence that it daily perpetrates against Blacks.”

A 17-year-old Black student is set upon by four white males that inhabit the same suite of rooms on a college campus. Over a period of almost two months, his tormentors force him into a closet and twice fasten a “U” shaped bicycle lock around his neck, once chaining him for at least ten minutes and bruising his lip in the attack. The whole time, the perpetrators prominently display a Confederate flag, a board scrawled with the word “nigger,” and a photo of Adolph Hitler, the mass exterminator of “lesser species” of humanity, while verbally assaulting the victim with racial slurs, calling him “three-fifths” and “fraction” to dramatize their view that he is nothing but a slave to whites. The victim would sometimes barricade himself in his room to escape the assaults.

The initial police report describes the assaults as “hazing.” CNN insists on calling the prolonged attacks a form of “bullying.” Journalists refer to “three-fifths” and “fraction” as the victim’s “nicknames.” Ultimately, the four whites are charged only with a misdemeanor hate crime and simple battery, for which they face a maximum of one year in county jail and possible fines.

The criminal offenses committed against the unnamed victim at San Jose State University should, under California and federal law, constitute felonious battery, terroristic threats (which, under California Penal Code section 422, can be charged whether or not the person making the threat has the ability to carry out the threat or even intended to carry out the threat), and, if the police were serious about deterring such atrocities, kidnapping. If vigorously prosecuted in the penal dystopia that California has become, the four white boys would emerge from prison as middle-aged men, covered in Aryan Nation tattoos. But that’s not going to happen, because these are the children of a white society that is incapable of acknowledging – or even perceiving, on the cognitive level – the violence that it daily perpetrates against Blacks.

Black students and the local NAACP made the same point in a demonstration beneath the 22-foot statue commemorating Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ “Black Power” salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. "The community will not stand idly by and allow for any student of color to be terrorized simply due to the color of his skin," said the Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP. But, there is no Black Power on San Jose State’s campus. At just three percent of the student body, there is hardly a Black presence.

Qayoumi has assimilated the values of his adopted country.”

African American enrollment was reduced by one back in 2008, when Gregory Johnson’s body was discovered in the basement of the Sigma Chi fraternity house. The police ruled it a suicide by hanging, despite the wound in the back of his head. “He died like a dog,” said Johnson’s tearful mother, Denise, holding pictures of her son as students consoled her at the demonstration.

University President Mohammad Qayoumi, who had initially failed to even suspend the white supremacist assailants, presented words of contrition for his cognitive dysfunction. “By failing to recognize the meaning of a Confederate flag, intervene earlier to stop the abuse, or impose sanctions as soon as the gravity of the behavior became clear, we failed him. I failed him.”

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Qayoumi has assimilated the values of his adopted country. White supremacy oozes from the digital pores of Atlanta-based CNN, which peppered its coverage of the San Jose assault with links from an article on “bullying” that featured a photo of young white actresses from the 2004 movie Mean Girls: Are we too quick to cry 'bully'?, When friends become bullies and Bullying among boys easily dismissed? For CNN, racist assaults and threats of lynching are nothing more than white rites of adolescent passage – like “hazing,” the term used by Raw Story, the Los Angeles Times (“NAACP seeks harsher charges in San Jose racial hazing case”) and the San Jose police, themselves, to describe the crime.

White America invented lynching as a broad category of practices inextricably entwined with the peculiar institutions of U.S. chattel slavery and Jim Crow. There are as many variations on the tree-and-rope motif as racist minds can imagine. Lynching is not a punishment for any defined infraction other than the race of the victim. It is a weapon of racist oppression, which can be unleashed for the most whimsical of reasons, or for no purpose other than to terrify the targeted population. Lynching is white supremacist violence, in all its purposeful manifestations – judicial and extrajudicial. It is endemic to the white supremacist USA.

Lynching is not a punishment for any defined infraction other than the race of the victim.”

The United States has never defined lynching, much less outlawed it – although the U.S. Senate apologized by voice vote, in 2005, for failing to pass an anti-lynching law “when it was most needed.”

Legal definitions of crime are rooted in the intent of the perpetrator. George Zimmerman lynched Trayvon Martin as part of his effort to maintain the racist social order. The police did not, initially, charge him because they shared Zimmerman’s motives. A jury eventually agreed that no lynching occurred, because Zimmerman “meant well.” They, too, were invested in preserving the racist social order.

The prosecutor in the San Jose case defended his decision to charge the four white students with misdemeanor crimes. "While we understand the outrage of those calling for even stiffer charges in this case, the charges are not a reflection of the degree of their racism," said District Attorney Jeff Rosen. "The charges are a reflection of their criminal conduct."

Anybody who lives in the ghetto knows that police and prosecutors routinely pile on layers of escalating charges, all stemming from one discreet crime (and often charge defendants with every unsolved crime in the neighborhood). In the San Jose case, nearly two months of daily crimes that can easily and reasonably be charged as felonies were stripped down to the barest misdemeanors. The DA claims he is not allowed to prosecute people simply for being racist – which is true. But racism was the obvious motive for the white supremacist students’ physical assaults, terrorist threats, and kidnapping of the Black victim from August 20 through October 13 of this year. It is central to the crime. When the larger society dismisses or diminishes racism as an element of the crimes committed against Black people, it exposes us to an infinity of assaults.

That’s why we have the right and duty of collective self-defense.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].