Black men are still being lynched by overtly racist cops and subtly racist courts and laws, according to this debut book.
Cobb, a minister, argues that latter-day incidents of police killings of unarmed black men, along with disproportionately harsh sentences given to black defendants, constitute a reprise of the lynching of black men in the South during the Jim Crow era. He begins his impassioned work with a history of lynching, from Reconstruction through the Emmett Till killing in 1955 and the murders of civil rights activists, noting the role of these crimes in enforcing racial segregation and suppressing African-American labor and political organizing. This section, illustrated with grisly photographs, is a powerful reminder of the pervasive violence blacks faced during that time. The author proceeds to apply the concept of lynching to contemporary police brutality and criminal justice disparities. He cites statistics showing that police kill unarmed black men at a much higher rate than white men, and that blacks are more likely to get the death penalty than whites who commit similar crimes. He also criticizes drug laws that disproportionately affect minorities. (He served 10 years in federal prison on what he believes were inflated drug charges.) Along the way, he revisits notorious cases, like the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black Cleveland youngster who was playing with a toy gun, and more obscure ones, such as the nonfatal shooting of Charles Kinsey, a black health worker trying to help an autistic patient, who was shot by Florida police while lying on the ground in broad daylight, unarmed, with his hands up. From these tragic case studies, Cobb makes a cogent argument about the ongoing unfairness in policing and the legal system. But his assertion that “police assault and shoot African- American males almost randomly” seems exaggerated, and his comparison of police killings, many done in a split second under chaotic circumstances by officers uncertain about the risks they face, to the deliberate public lynchings of the Jim Crow regime feels overdone. In addition, the author’s doctrinaire theorizing—“Within neo-colonial white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the black male body continues to be perceived as an embodiment of bestial, violent, penis-as-weapon hyper-masculine assertion”—doesn’t always clarify a complex reality.
A sometimes-moving, sometimes-simplistic take on the problem of race and justice.