Lynching rose to prominence in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably in the Deep South during the dawn of Reconstruction. Lynching was extra-judicial, vigilante action used to intimidate African Americans — and sometimes sympathetic whites — to enforce racist Jim Crow law. Individuals who participated in lynch mobs were seldom convicted in a court of law, even if properly identified, meaning perpetrators were safe, generally anonymous, and rarely held accountable for their actions.
Perhaps more disgustingly, lynching was a public spectacle, often treated as a family-friendly community event. It was not uncommon for children to be brought to the sight of lynchings, as a victim’s body hung lifelessly from a tree. So agreeable were whites to the racial violence of lynching, many took photos gathered around the victim, united as one for the cause of a dead black man.
While lynching has occurred less frequently since the Civil Rights Movement, its legacy remains present in the modern era; the noose remains symbolic, and makes regular appearances at many universities. The mob mentality persists as well, now in the form of the digital campaign, where individual donors unite as one.
In the wake of the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and allegations of first-degree rape and sexual battery of eight black women, lucrative crowdsourcing fundraisers were established for George Zimmerman, officer Darren Wilson and officer Daniel Holtzclaw, respectively.
No doubt members of the public are entitled to support who and what they please, but given the nature of the alleged crimes (the murders of unarmed children and the abuse of power to perpetrate sexual assault against women), the sizable amounts of money raised in these fundraisers are simultaneously alarming and fascinating.
Perhaps there is no greater example of putting one’s money where his or her mouth is, a new kind of financial investment that goes far beyond political donations: Let’s call it hate-funding.
Arguably in the case of Zimmerman, the flood of proceeds made sense in supporting his legal defense, though his PayPal account was created in advance of him being charged with any crime. He made the account himself, and raised over $400,000. CBS News reported that Zimmerman was able to raise $77,000 in a week’s time. For killing a black boy.
In the case of Wilson, however, the lynch mob mentality is easiest to see. Two fundraisers had been erected in Wilson’s name, despite the fact that he has released no statement on the shooting death of Mike Brown, did not complete his own incident report, has virtually disappeared, and remains on paid leave without being charged for any crime. (Charges, incidentally, look less likely as time goes by.) Two fundraisers have collectively raised over $400,000; the folks at Salon have done a masterful job in summing up the racism that littered the donation page; one user identified as “Jim Crow.”
Holtzclaw’s case is more of the same, though it has yet to dominate the news cycle the way the others have. Holtzclaw’s alleged crimes were perpetrated against eight different black women, and despite statements from Oklahoma police which indicate that there could be more victims that remain unidentified, Holtzclaw’s now-inactive GoFundMe page raised a little over $7,300 from almost 40 donors, according to The Washington Times.
Campaigns like this make celebrities out of alleged murders and alleged rapists: Supporters mass-produce t-shirts and sell them curbside as though they were standing outside of concert venues. The victims, unarmed and killed for being black in the wrong place, space, time, and manner, are extinguished, their deaths something that others celebrate, encourage, look beyond.
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