Lynching is a form of vigilante justice in which someone is summarily executed without a trial. Classically, lynching involves the torture and hanging of a presumed offender, and while it has become infamously associated with the United States, it occurs all over the world. The practice has been largely banned, thanks to a number of anti-lynching laws introduced in the 20th century, but documented instances continue to occur in rough regions of the world.
This practice is named for Charles Lynch, a notorious vigilante who lived in Virginia during the American Revolution. Lynch used his position of authority to mete out rough justice to anyone suspected of criminal activity, without the benefit of a trial, and his name came to be synonymous with a hanging without trial.
For the United States, the most infamous examples of lynchings occurred in the wake of the Civil War, when civil unrest led to the lynching of almost 5,000 blacks between 1860 and 1968. Blacks already had limited access to the legal system, and lynchings disenfranchised them even further. Angry mobs whipped up by acts of violence would lynch any black man or woman they found on the street, whether or not that individual was involved in the crime, and sometimes even in cases where whites had clearly committed the crime.
The incidence of lynching tends to rise in communities experiencing civil unrest. Colonies and nations in the grip of a civil war are prone to lynchings, as citizens may strike out at convenient targets, taking advantage of general confusion to engage in vigilante justice without consequences. Victims of lynchings are often cultural, racial, or ethnic minorities, and a lynching may be viewed as a public spectator event and cause for celebration, as numerous haunting images from lynchings in the United States testify.
The frequency of lynchings around the world started to decline in the 1960s, in response to civil rights movements and a push to end lynching in the United States. The formulation of strict laws about lynching also promoted a decline in the incidence of this form of justice, as lynch mobs are now forced to face very real consequences for their actions. However, this crime still takes place in various regions of the world as an act of vengeance, vigilantism, or an unspoken message. Ongoing drug wars, for example, often claim lynching victims as police and drug investigators are publicly hung to underscore the consequences of interfering with drug barons.