Delegated Vigilantism and Less-than-lethal Lynching in Twenty-first Century America

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law Working Paper No. 09

to appear in 2023 in Crime and Justice—A review of Research, Vol. 52

24 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2023

See all articles by Michael Tonry

Michael Tonry

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Date Written: July 1, 2023

Abstract

Black people’s experiences with American criminal justice since the mid-1960s have been worse than their experiences in America generally. Whites have been afraid of Black people since “20 or so” (Morgan 1975) p. 105) were “purchased” in Jamestown, the first permanent British colony, in 1619. Southern Whites’ fears of racial insurrections and wars pervaded American politics through the Civil War. For nearly a century afterwards, southern and many other Whites feared economic and social competition from Black people and believed they were inferior human beings. Since the 1960s, most Whites have ceased believing in inherent Black inferiority, but have continued to oppose integration of schools and housing and exaggeratedly feared Black criminals. The last is starkly evident in Supreme Court decisions, police activities, sentencing policies, and punishment practices that treat Blacks more harshly than Whites. Two widespread earlier practices, vigilantism and lynching, though in retrospect reviled, have modern equivalents that target Black people. Police use of the “third degree,” curbside punishment, and brutal prisons were for long acceptable to fearful and angry White citizens, just as racial profiling, police violence, and extreme punishment disparities are in our time. Call that “delegated vigilantism.” White citizens no longer themselves capture and kill alleged wrongdoers but, not so different, majorities have for a half century supported policies that authorize or mandate routine use of unprecedentedly severe punishments that ruin lives. Call that “less-than-lethal lynching.”

Keywords: vigilantism, delegated vigilantism, lynching, racial disparities, racial enmity, race relations

JEL Classification: K

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, Delegated Vigilantism and Less-than-lethal Lynching in Twenty-first Century America (July 1, 2023). Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law Working Paper No. 09, to appear in 2023 in Crime and Justice—A review of Research, Vol. 52, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4560669 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4560669

Michael Tonry (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Guenterstalstr. 73
Freiburg, 79100
Germany

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