I’ve had a spate of e-mails telling me that, in my Comment on the California anti-gay-marriage initiative, I was wrong to say that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was “lynched.” Rather, they point out, he was shot and killed.Update: Further clarification.
These e-mailers are under the impression that hanging is intrinsic to lynching. Not so. My desk dictionary (the American Heritage College one) defines “lynch” as “To execute without due process of law, esp. to hang, as by a mob.” In other words, while lynching always involves extrajudicial execution by a mob, it only sometimes involves hanging.
In 1844, in Carthage, Illinois, Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and three other top Mormons were pumped full of bullets by members of a mob that stormed the jail where they were being held on suspicion of treason against the state of Illinois. Last weekend, in Brooklyn, a gang of bigots shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets murdered an Ecuadorean immigrant, Joé Sucuzhañay. Yesterday, in the Times, an editorial deploring the murder was headlined “A Lynching in Brooklyn.” Sucuzhañay was beaten to death. His murder, like the murders of Joseph Smith and his colleagues, was “a savage, hate-inspired crime.” And, yes, both were lynchings.
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