At the Edge of Abolition: Violence and Imagination in the History of California Lynch Law

Linette Park
Culture and Theory
UC Irvine

This dissertation examines the recent arrests of Black Lives Matter demonstrators in California on charges of “self-lynching” or “felony-lynching.” It interrogates the historical, political, and psychosocial formations of violence that bind these present day arrests to the long history of racial slavery in the United States. The dissertation maps a critical genealogy of the 1933 anti-lynching legislation that would become the extant state law. In order to authorize present day police action, the original intent of the code has been distorted over the better part of the last century. The project tracks the anti-lynching law as an implicit response to the racist ideology imposed by white lynch mobs who believed that the judiciary was incapable of protecting the community from “criminals,” a socially constructed identity that was predominantly racialized as black. The genealogy demonstrates how the reinterpretation of the original legislation justifies violent police practices against contemporary racial justice movements. The dissertation argues that the abstraction of racial blackness and the disavowal of slavery’s enduring trauma together enable the repetition of such state violence throughout slavery’s afterlife, by linking Law’s underlying relation of anti-black racism in its reading of black social identities.