Lynching is still legal?!

California’s legacy of mob violence claimed 65 lives

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the July 19, 2018, issue.

After 100 years and numerous failed attempts, California Sen. Kamala Harris is leading an effort to finally make lynching a crime in the United States.

Historically, lynching was one of the most disturbing acts perpetrated against blacks and other minorities in America. The Equal Justice Institute estimates that more than 4,000 African-Americans were the victims of mob violence and intimidation during the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Sixty-five people were killed by mob violence in California between 1875 and 1947, according to an online record created by Michael J. Pfeifer, a history professor at the The University of Texas at Austin. Fifty-two percent of the victims were white, while 39 percent were Latino or Native American. California’s most blood-thirsty residents lived in Kern and Siskiyou counties, which accounted for 10 lynchings apiece.

There are few details about the most recent lynching in California, except that it occurred 71 years ago in the Siskiyou County town of Callahan, and that the African-American victim was accused of “cattle rustling.”

While the legacy of publicly torturing accused lawbreakers to death eventually fell out of favor in the United States, it never officially became a federal offense. Between 1890 and 1952, Congress considered 200 anti-lynching bills. Only three made it through the House of Representatives, but none ever came to a floor vote in the Senate due to filibuster threats from southern representatives. After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, anti-lynching bills vanished.

Harris and the only two other African-American members of the U.S. Senate are hoping to finally change that with the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018.

“Lynching is a dark, despicable part of our history, and we must acknowledge that, lest we repeat it,” Harris said in a statement.

Harris made her statement before the California Department of Justice revealed that hate crimes increased for the third straight year. While still lower than they were a decade ago, authorities around the state reported that hate crimes rose 17 percent in 2017, to 1,093 incidents.

Crimes with a racial bias accounted for 55.7 percent of all hate crime events since 2008.

In Sacramento County, 37 hate crime offenses involving 36 victims and 16 suspects were reported by law enforcement and medical personnel last year, but only seven hate crimes were referred to the county district attorney’s office. Zero of the crimes reported to the DA’s office were prosecuted as hate crimes, however four were charged as non-bias related crimes.

California’s state auditor and Joint Legislative Audit Committee recently criticized law enforcement agencies for under-counting hate crimes in the state. The committee found that agencies failed to report all hate crimes to the DOJ, primarily due to inaccurate paperwork and inadequate policies, tools and methodology for identifying bias-related crimes. Also, the DOJ has conducted only a limited amount of outreach to law enforcement agencies related to hate crime reporting, the committee determined.