Mob Rule and Vigilante Justice
Kinloch C. Walpole
August 15, 2007
On July 17, 1999, inmate Frankie Valdes was murdered inside Florida State Prison by self appointed vigilantes from the criminal justice community. The autopsy showed he had 22 broken ribs; fractures in his sternum, spine, nose and jaw; as well as internal injuries. .
This is Florida vigilantism and it parallels the death squads of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Roberto D’Aubuisson in El Salvador.
The common denominator of vigilantism and death squads is a dependency on political and community support. The divergence is that death squads get their orders from the state while vigilantes’ are largely representative of and dependent on their constituency and community for political support.
You can debate the role, integrity and intention of any individual, community or constituency touched by the Valdes murder. However, there are four points that can not be debated. First, it was murder. Second, the entire suspect pool was limited to on duty and uniformed employees of the state criminal justice system. Third, no one was held accountable. Fourth, every politician touched by this murder was elected or re-elected in the subsequent election.
There are those that would say this is an aberration totally alien to the culture and political history of the south. However, the truth is that this murder is only a recent chapter in a bloody history of mob rule and vigilante justice that dates back to Reconstruction. This is a history where the criminal justice community has been a part of both the mob and vigilantes.
To make an argument that today the numbers do not support the concept of mob rule and vigilante justice is to miss the point. The culture and mechanisms are still in place and only waiting for an appropriate situation to ‘justify’ mob action and vigilante justice.
This was the case in the murder of Frankie Valdes while a charge of the Florida criminal justice community. In this case, the ‘justification’ for vigilante justice was the conviction of Frankie Valdes for murdering a corrections officer.
It could be said the opening chapter of mob rule and vigilante justice in the south was written in early 1866 with first the massacres at Memphis and then the Mechanic’s Institute in New Orleans. The body count for the massacres is estimated at 20 for Memphis and 137 for New Orleans. In both cases, law enforcement personnel were prominent among the mobs that brought vigilante justice. No one was held accountable in either massacre.
Fast forward the clock to 1964 to the murder of voting rights volunteers in Mississippi. Both cases involved members of the criminal justice community. The community and the state refused to hold them accountable. Not unlike Florida in the case of the murder of Frankie Valdes.
The murder of the voting rights volunteers and Frankie Valdes deserve a special footnote in history. It took the federal courts to obtain a modicum of justice where the state courts were incapable or unwilling to convict the perpetrators.
In the case of the civil rights workers, it was the federal government that prosecuted the perpetrators. However, the federal government declined to prosecute in the case of Frankie Valdes.
In the case of Frankie Valdes, it took Frankie’s father to prosecute the perpetrators in federal court. The state of Florida, not those charged, paid him $750,000 in damages rather than risk a guilty verdict by trial.
Between the massacres at Memphis and New Orleans and the murder of Frankie Valdes lays a bloody trail of lynching brought about by countless mobs exercising vigilante justice. The body count is in excess of 2,522 Negros murdered.
There are those that still say the murder of Frankie Valdes is an aberration of a culture and tradition long time buried. Fast forward the clock to 2006 and it is Déjà vu all over again.
Now the name is Martin Lee Anderson and he died after being beaten at a boot camp run by the Bay County Sheriff’s office. Anderson was a 14 year old Negro boy
Yes, the embers of mob rule and vigilante justice are still burning and only waiting for the winds of drama and trauma to fan them as they did in Reconstruction.
The question is: what chance does the average citizen have for justice that is not in good standing with a mob of political influence? A clue may rest in the fact there is no country on God’s green earth that has a higher incarceration ratio than the State of Florida.
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