Monday, August 26, 2013

Reflections on George Meadows

On last week’s series, several points:

  • In its pursuit of sensationalism (and, presumably, readers), I note that the Weekly Herald article doesn’t meet modern journalistic standards of objectivity. Kind of like the New York Times, except more interesting.
  • This was not a case of a howling mob murdering a random black person.  There was a heinous crime:  indeed, a crime meriting the standards of the death penalty, probably by even the higher standards of today.  The was an investigation by as competent an authority as could be arranged.  And notably, the “racist” vigilantes were looking to that authority, if not exactly patient with it.
  • The victim’s repeated formulation – “If this is not the right man, then he’s awfully like him. – would probably not meet the modern legal standard for conviction, and for this reason would never see the light of a courtroom.  Be assured that police and prosecutors carefully coach away such reservations well before a trial takes place.
  • The denouement as this in common with art:  each person will read the evidence and see something of himself reflected back.  For those that hate the South for its civil rights record, the end of George Meadows is murder, plain and simple.  For those who would rehabilitate it, the manner of his end may be regrettable, but given his apparent crimes, not a moral stain.
  • The vigilantes’ lack of faith in the orderly administration of the law is palpable.  This distrust would have been more obviously creditable among Alabamans had it occurred during Reconstruction, but its military occupation had ended with the Compromise of 1877, and I don’t know of any other reason that white southerners should be so hostile to their own duly sworn law enforcement officials.  I might suggest the culture of vigilantism, born in Reconstruction, was outliving its utility, but the era of lynching lasted too long and too far outside the South for this to be especially plausible.
  • In any case, the culture of vigilantism is well and truly dead.  I can no more imagine any present-day jurisdiction summoning 500 white people to the business of extrajudicial punishment than I can imagine a similar group self-organizing to bring down a school shooter.  No, today we cower in fear.  We might yet use force in our own and family’s protection, but otherwise we “call the police”, who are indeed formidable to citizen and household pet alike.  To those who object to the comparison, I reply:  the same spirit lived and died in both cases.
  • Why is this?  I don’t know, any more that I know why white Americans seem resigned to their own extinction.  It probably has something to do with the vast power we have granted our purported guardians, knowing that however late it might show up to the murder of such as Mrs. Kellum, it would surely pursue her vindicators with a never-ending fury.  Better to cower in fear, and flee.

3 comments:

newrebeluniv said...

Thanks for the rundown in this case. Thee are larger issues at stake here in our times as we have seen in other times and places. high profile cases like Trayvon Martin and OJ Simpson, being decided on ways contrary to the popular narrative undermines faith in the system. But it never asks, " what do you have faith that the system will do"? In most cases, people want the system to return verdicts that match their own sense of justice. Family and friends of the guilty want to see him released. Family and friends of the victims want to see the accused punished, without regard to the evidence.

Thus is vigilantism born. At some point, faith in the system crosses to the point where reasonable men choose to do it themselves because they see there is no alternative if they wish to preserve their society from the depredations of the criminal class.

This becomes more important when you have government officials who use the law to implement clearly unlawful policies and are themselves above the law.

The Southern states withdrew from the National government when it became obvious that they had become a permanent minority and that the Northern states would always dominate them in voting. This was the root of the war of 1861. And why lots of people are expecting another war soon.

Elusive Wapiti said...

"This was not a case of a howling mob murdering a random black person. There was a heinous crime: indeed, a crime meriting the standards of the death penalty, probably by even the higher standards of today. The was an investigation by as competent an authority as could be arranged. And notably, the “racist” vigilantes were looking to that authority, if not exactly patient with it."

This is an important point, one that takes a lot of the edge of a naughty word like "vigilante".

It's as almost as if they weren't impatient per se with the justice system itself, rather with the mechanism that brought offenders to the system. I.e., their constabulary was laying down on the job and not ridding them of bad actors.

Dr. Φ said...

Prof Hale: As it happens, I have a post on secession coming out soon. But the question is not the circumstances in 1860 but in the 1880s.

their constabulary was laying down on the job

EW: Do we know this to be the case?