The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment

By Franklin E. Zimring | Go to book overview

5
The Vigilante Tradition and
Modern Executions

THE SUBSTANTIVE FEATURE of American experience that has encouraged executions and protected them from being associated with excessive government power is a mythology of local control that appears to be linked to historical traditions of vigilante violence. This chapter shows a striking parallel between the practice of capital punishment at the end of the twentieth century and the practice of lynching a century earlier. Those parts of the United States where mob killings were repeatedly inflicted as crime control without government sanction are more likely now to view official executions as expressions of the will of the community rather than the power of a distant and alien government. For this reason, modern executions are concentrated in those sections of the United States where the hangman used to administer popular justice without legal sanction. Of equal noteworthiness, those areas of the United States where lynchings were rare a century ago are much less likely now to have a death penalty or to execute. In this important respect, the propensity to execute in the twenty-first century is a direct legacy of a history of lynching and of the vigilante tradition if it is still a part of regional culture.


Lynching: A Brief Statistical History

The story and legacy of lynching is an extraordinarily important chapter of our history with lasting impact on American character and culture. The

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