That’s what the headlines should have read.
Love is the ultimate middle finger to the forces of evil gathering around us. Not many are left who remember the heady days of express institutional white supremacy so the idea of a lynching is by and large an abstract concept. It’s forgivable for our generation to mistake the murder of Timothy Caughman for an isolated hate crime and not the act of terrorism it really is. It is a particular kind of terrorism and it preys on isolation and fear. It is white racist terrorism and it has never sown anything but pain and darkness for all involved.
Mr. Caughman, a 66-year-old retired social worker, was murdered by a 28-year-old white supremacist who has already confessed to the crime. Mr. Caughman met a bloody end on a street corner, dragged himself to a hospital (good job on the help out, Manhattan) and died facing evil alone. His killer “hated black men since [he] was a kid,” he told police. In particular, much like the South Carolina shooter who murdered 9 black people in church in 2015, he hated the black man’s coopting of “his” white women. So he took a train from Baltimore to New York where he knew he would find the biggest media market in order to make the largest statement, and searched for a black man. But not just any black man. He didn’t sit outside of Crunch Fitness and target a personal trainer, or a young, fit, black man walking with a white woman (of which there are plenty in New York). No, he searched out 66-year-old Timothy Caughman while Mr. Caughman was collecting recyclables in order to cash them in for extra money. He saw a target–an old man alone and vulnerable.
He did this because he is a coward and a weakling. A man so consumed with hate and insecurity that his only outlet was violence against someone he knew was too weak to stop him.
He also did this because he has been told his entire life that the world is his and must be forced to submit to this sick vision. This perversion is the main ingredient in the long, horrifying history of lynching. White terrorism has always been the final manifestation of bigotry. But bigotry is ownership at its core. The connective tissue between this terrorist killing, the South Carolina church terrorism and the long history of lynching is the notion that the white man owns both the white woman and the black man.
But “the white woman” has never been a possession, just as “the black man” and “the black woman” has never been a possession. There has been bondage, to be sure, but bondage can only restrict the flesh and only for so long. (See: War, The Civil; Tubman, Harriet; Turner, Nat, et al) This killer’s rage and all the rage over these long terrible years is rooted in impotence. There is no stopping people en mass from living freely. There is no dictating to others how they can and will see themselves. No matter the amount of violence, human beings will determine their own futures and live in dignity. There is no stopping people from choosing who they love, what they do for a living, where they live, how they see themselves, or what they believe.
People have tried. There is a bloody, nearly forgotten history, of terrorism in this nation against black bodies in service of that effort. It failed but that doesn’t mean people aren’t keen to repeat those mistakes.
The coward who murdered Timothy Caughman wanted to tell us all that we are his possessions and our failure to bend to that vision will be punished brutally. But all he’s done is expose himself and exalt Timothy Caughman (may he find peace in whatever life comes next) to our prayers.
Resist. Protest. Practice your art. Love who you want and do it out loud. Protect the weak and exalt the future. That is resistance and it can only be done together.