Typical graphic depiction of a southern lynch mob shows the mob component as white in complexion, and the intended victim as black. Move the scenario westward and the mob still remains white while the victim may be a member of any minority in the community; or the victim may be a local outcast or a drifter or vagrant, unfortunate enough to meet the criteria that excite the mob while lessening all chances of an effective legal defense.
Mob violence is easy to provoke and difficult to defuse. It feeds upon anger, bigotry, lies, and an undercurrent of social and cultural separatism and perceived and/or actual injustice.
The victim need not be guilty in order to become the target of a lynch mob. Local sentiment and an active rumor mill can make cast an innocent as a target, guilty by means of public sentiment before any semblance of a legal investigation and trial ever takes place. The local law enforcement agencies have sometimes been implicated in lynchings by means of averted eyes or an opportune absence from a duty post. With the development of stronger and better trained and paid police agencies such dereliction of duty has become a thing of a distant past.
The Martin/Zimmerman incident in Florida has many components of a lynch mob in action. The major discrepancy from the previous image of a lynch mob centers on the reversed complexions of the victim and the mob. Zimmerman is not black but is the target for literally millions of people who are ready to rush to judgment and who would, if possible, surrender him to the mob for trial and punishment. The television coverage of the partial facts of the case, the incessant social network-driven rumor mills, and the actions of community leaders has kept the situation at a low boil. Add in the appearance of national demagogues at local demonstrations, stirring in their bits of ages-old grievances based upon injustices dating back centuries, and the social situation becomes highly explosive.
This incident, not fully or well investigated yet, has generated a $10,000 bounty offered by “The New Black Panthers,” countless hours of broadcast hate mongering directed toward Zimmerman and many more directed toward the local black community and toward a 17-year-old male whose role in his own death has yet to be fully or accurately determined.
The use of “twitter” as a tool to incite violence or other action has been demonstrated openly in the publication of an address thought to be Zimmerman’s. but actually belonging to an elderly couple who have been subsequently terrorized by members of an ill-informed and angry mob for no reason beyond their last name.
There is no doubt that if Zimmerman had been handed to the mob at one of the many demonstrations taking place, his fate would have been an ugly, brutal death without trial, proof of guilt, or legal disposition by a court of law; a lynching from any vantage.
What is less well defined is, what would be the label placed upon the actions of film-maker Spike Lee if his error in publicizing an incorrect address had resulted in the death of either or both of the older couple who lived at that address. Had the sheer terror of the mob’s actions toward them caused a cardiac arrhythmia resulting in death wouldn’t that also constitute death at the hands of a lynch mob?
We’ve the ability to broadcast a lot of information and misinformation because of the internet and social networks. We’ve an obligation to make sure we have our facts straight. In 19th and early 20th century lynchings, the final instrument of death was often a gallows or a rope and a tree. In the 21st century, it appears that the lynching is carried out first by a not-so-smart-phone in the hands of not-so-smart members of the e-mob.