In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American teenager from Chicago was visiting family in Mississippi for the summer. On August 28 of that year, Till was brutally murdered. He was kidnapped from his family’s home in the middle of the night, beaten, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. Two white men allegedly committed the crime. The motive: Till whistled at a white woman in a grocery store. After a trial by an all-white, all-male jury, which deliberated for only 67 minutes, the two white men accused of Till’s murder were acquitted. While it may be too late to give comfort to Till’s mother — she passed away in 2003 — it is not too late for the families of victims of countless other unsolved crimes from the civil rights era.
Last night, President Bush signed into law legislation named in honor of Till, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act. This law takes an important step towards ensuring that those who committed civil rights era crimes are brought to justice. The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act will provide the Department of Justice (DOJ) with additional personnel and resources to investigate and prosecute unsolved civil rights era crimes. Obtaining evidence is becoming more and more difficult as time goes by and witnesses and suspects age, so it’s crucial that DOJ have all the necessary resources to solve these cases. That there was no just trial for a crime as heinous as Till’s murder is a travesty. The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act sends the clear message that leaving these cases unsolved is not acceptable and that no matter how much times has passed, civil rights era crimes will not remain unprosecuted.
The ACLU applauds the passage of this law. Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Legislative Counsel, said in a statement: “This law means justice delayed, no longer has to be justice denied.”