chapter  4
20 Pages

Community Justice in Conflict: Paramilitary Punishment in Northern Ireland

The language that white southerners used to define and describe lynchings, as well as the behaviour of lynchers themselves, reveals much about white southerners' conceptions of power and justice. Lynching, like other forms of informal justice, required legitimacy in the eyes of its practitioners and a significant portion of citizenry if it was to endure as a complement to formal modes of justice. This chapter focuses upon the legitimization of lynching in the American South. It traces the patterns of discourse that are relevant to the phenomenon of mob violence beyond the Mason-Dixon line. Lynchers, whether in the South or elsewhere, were at pains to demonstrate that, in light of the precipitating crimes, summary justice was reasonable rather than cruel and excessive. They insisted that the penalty of mob-inflicted death was imposed evenly and fairly and that like crimes elicited like punishments.