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The Long and Tragic History of Racism, Vigilantism, and Mob Violence in America

Raymond M. Brown, Roberta Kaplan, Juan R. Thomas, and Cedric Ashley

GPSolo Activate Diversity Series

In recent years we have seen images of armed mainly white male private citizens appearing at social justice protests for the purported reason of protecting property. This was seen several years ago in Ferguson, Missouri and more recently in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We have also seen instances of mob violence in recent years such as in Charlottesville, Virginia resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, and in 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia resulting in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. The most profound instance of mob violence occurred on January 6, 2021, with the storming of the U.S. Capitol that interrupted and threatened the joint session of congress discharging their electoral college role.

The question becomes are these occurrences new or just a continuation of the racial history of America. The notion of private citizens taking the “law” their own hands can be traced as far back to runaway slave patrols, “night riders” (that preceded the organized Ku Klux Klan), the destruction of an entire black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the killing of Emmet Till, and the killings of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. More ominously, many lynching deaths from the late 1880s to the early 1900s have been labelled as “death at the hands of persons unknown.”

This program will look at the current events from a historical lens, drawing comparisons to past and current events; and will also look at what has been done and what can be done to bring justice to the victims of these actions.

Co-Sponsors: ABA Center for Human RightsABA Civil Rights and Social Justice SectionABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice (COREJ)ABA Judicial Division, National Bar Association