In August, a black 17-year-old boy named Lennon Lacy was found dead, hanging by two belts from a swing set in an open field in his North Carolina town. Police, in what Lacy’s family felt was too quick of an investigation, ruled his death a suicide.
But uproar by the NAACP over a potentially botched investigation and the underlying racial implications of the manner in which Lacy died kept the story in the news. On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigations announced that it will examine the evidence in the case again to determine whether or not it may have been a lynching. The NAACP is also launching its own investigation.
Lacy’s mother has insisted all along that her son’s death could have been a murder. In an emotional essay for the Guardian, she points to a series of red flags. For example, she brings up Lacy’s relationship with an older white woman, something that could raise racial tensions in the town. She also says that she doesn’t believe her son would have hanged himself where he did, on a swing set out in the open near a white trailer park.
She also writes that the police determined in just four days that her son had killed himself, and that “the police didn’t once come to my house, they didn’t look inside Lennon’s room -– they still haven’t to this day. They didn’t ask to see his cell phone so they could track his calls, they didn’t ask me what clothes he was wearing the night before he died. Until my family, with the help of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, presented the police with a long list of our concerns, they didn’t even inquire about the fact that Lennon was found with a pair of white sneakers on his feet that he didn’t own and were two sizes too small for him.” The newly-purchased Jordan shoes that Lacy was wearing, meanwhile, were never found.
Though much rarer than in the Jim Crow era, lynchings do happen in the modern day. In 1981, for instance, a 19-year-old named Michael Donald was beaten with tree limbs and choked with a rope by KKK-affiliated men, as retribution over the murder of a white police officer by a different black man that ended in mistrial. In 1998, white supremacists chained a man named James Byrd Jr. to their car and dragged his body down the street until it was torn to shreds and he was beheaded. Years later, one of his three killers told a local news station, “I would do it all over again.”
There is also an argument that extrajudicial killings have just evolved in the modern era, taking the form of police brutality.
In her essay on her son’s death, Claudia Lacy referenced such killings. “Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about Ferguson and Staten Island,” she writes. “Lennon wasn’t killed by a police officer – of that much we can be sure. But there is a connection. My son, Michael Brown, Eric Garner – three black men who were all treated by police as though they didn’t matter. That their lives, and the circumstances of their deaths, were immaterial.”