A sixteen year old boy watched as a white mob strung his classmates up in a tree behind the courthouse, watching as their necks snapped. Then they came for him.
“I can never forget the mobsters breaking into the jail. They surged forward in one great lunge, knocking and trampling the Black prisoners around me. Some of the mob got their hands on me right away, three on each side, and then the merciless beating began.” James Cameron said in remembering his near death encounter in August of 1930.
“Then they began to yell for me like a favorite basketball or football player.” Cameron recalled the mob screaming. ‘We want Cameron, we want Cameron, we want Cameron.’ They got me up to the tree and they got a rope and they put it around my neck. I was ready to die.” He told National Public Radio.
Cameron passed away in 2006, leaving behind a newly relevant legacy as the only known survivor of a lynch mob.
Hanging alongside his freshly beaten and murdered classmates, by a rope around his neck that would scar him for life, waiting for death, the sixteen year old accused of murder and rape was spared by a shout from the crowd proclaiming his innocence.
They took him down, leaving the other two to sway in the soft summer wind of Marion, Indiana with ripped and bloodied clothes, mouths gaping, necks twisted ever so slightly towards the earth.
Fast-forward to 2012.
Six years after Cameron’s death, his legacy is illuminated with new meaning. Several irresponsible “freelance” journalists like The Washington Times opinion blogger Peter Bella have taken to calling the social networks we operate in “social media lynch mobs” that convict before a verdict is reached, most recently in the controversial case of Trayvon Martin.
Yes. The social media world exploded with anger towards his killer, George Zimmerman, and sorrow for Trayvon and his family, before the facts were in.
They still aren’t, but nearly three in every four Americans want to see the shooter behind bars.
That may be annoying, but in what world is it okay to equate angry Facebook statuses and Twitter updates with breaking into a prison with crowbars, hauling suspects into a field behind a courthouse, and beating and hanging them in front of thousands of militant townspeople?
Since when is the passive act of social conversation, mere first amendment expression, the same as the violent act of vigilante justice?
Destroying Zimmerman’s reputation is not the same as mutilating his body and murdering him. So far, the only people incentivizing violent action are the Black Panthers, who are offering $10,000 for the capture of George Zimmerman. Your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are not.
This is precisely the sort of inflammatory, irresponsible journalism that shames the profession. Have some respect for James Cameron and the estimated 4,743 Americans lynched by mobs before you compare what they suffered to the estimated zero Americans forcibly lynched by status updates.
If you see it used, condemn it.
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