Monday, June 13, 2005

Justice delayed is justice denied

Emmitt Till's body exhumed for autopsy

KKK suspect goes on trial for Mississippi murders

You may not recall much about either of these stories. Hell, both of them happened before I was even born. Emmitt Till was a teenager from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi back in 1955 when he allegedly committed the capital offense of whistling at a white woman. Having grown up outside the racial tensions of the South, how was he to know that he would be dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night and tortured? If that wasn't punishment enough, they tied a 75 pound fan from a cotton gin around his neck and tossed his teenaged body into the Tallahatchie River. All because he was a black boy whistling at a white woman. The pictures of his mangled body lying in the open casket at his funeral woke America up to the reality that all of America had yet to live up to its creed that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Two white men were tried for the murder, and were acquitted by an all-white jury in Mississippi - a predictable outcome in the 1950s. After the trial, the two men admitted killing Till in an interview with Look magazine. They couldn't be tried again. It appears that some others that may have been involved are still alive. Perhaps the autopsy will provide an avenue for providing some justice for Emmitt Till.

As the Civil Rights Movement grew in the 60s, it was common to organzie drives to register blacks to vote in the South in an attempt to gain government representation. In 1964, three young men lost their lives doing just that. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were investigating the burning of a church in Mississippi when they were arrested by the authorities (Goodman and Schwerner were white). In the manner of Jim Crow justice, they ended up in the hands of the Klan, were shot to death, and buried in a levee. Six people were eventually convicted for violating the civil rights of these three young men. The all-white jury deadlocked on the man currently on trial. No one has ever stood trial for the murder of these three men until now. Even though things have changed for the better, the ghosts of Mississippi still live on.
"If they were going to do it, they ought to have done it a long time ago," said D.V. McNair, 89, a white man who said Killen would probably be convicted and the burden of caring for him placed on the state. "It's just going to cost the taxpayers."
Justice should not be denied these three men for the sole reason of burdening the taxpayers of Mississippi. These three men gave their lives trying to ensure that the basic right of our republic was guaranteed for all her citizens - the right to vote. The very foundation of our nation depends upon justice for James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner - even if it is 40 years overdue.

No comments: