September 27, 2005
Study Finds Link Between Historical Lynchings and Death Sentences
From the DPIC: "Recent research has revealed a close correlation between the U.S. states that historically carried out the most lynchings and the states that today have the highest homicide rates and most death sentences. In a study led by sociologist Steven Messner of the State University of New York at Albany, county data from 10 southern states where historically reliable information on vigilante lynchings between 1882 and 1930 is available were examined (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee). The study then compared this information to more recent homicide data compiled from 1986 to 1995 by the FBI and National Center for Health Statistics. The comparison revealed that the counties with the most lynchings had the highest homicide rates, and the counties with fewer lynchings had comparatively fewer murders, even when researchers controlled for factors such as population, poverty, low levels of education, the percentage of young people in the population, the unemployment rate, and the percentage of single-parent households. Messner noted that "lynching seems to matter and is relevant to our understanding of contemporary lethal violence" in the South. The latest issue of the American Sociological Review contains more information about this study.
In a second study conducted by sociologists David Jacobs and Jason T. Carmichael of Ohio State University and Stephanie L. Kent of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, research revealed that the number of death sentences for all criminals - black and white - was higher in states with a history of lynchings. The link was particularly strong when the researchers analyzed only death sentences for black defendants. The sociologists theorize that the death penalty became a legal replacement for the lynchings of the past, and that the number of death sentences in states with the most lynchings increased as the state's population of African Americans grew. The researchers noted that this trend suggests that "current racial threat and past vigilantism largely directed against newly freed slaves jointly contribute to current lethal but legal reactions to racial threat." This research will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Sociologial Review." [Mark Godsey]
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