"Remove not the ancient landmarks for which our mothers and fathers set"
Proverbs 22: 28
As Black History Month for 2011 comes to a close we must keep our collective ears open to the voices of our cultural mothers and fathers whose wisdom is as relevant today as it was in the past. Their voices cry out for people of conscience, particularly African Americans to place justice and wisdom at the forefront of our family's focus.
I watched with interest an airing of The Injustice Files last week on the Discovery Channel. The Injustice Files is the work of filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, producer of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and CBS EYE Productions, which reveal the circumstances of three racially motivated unsolved murders of African Americans prior to 1969. Brilliantly, Beauchamp weaved together whatever he could find—family interviews, police records, eye witnesses—into a compelling expose. The Injustice Files serves as much as a history lesson as it does to inspire people today to come forward with information that would lead to the prosecution of murders and the legal closure of countless of acts of racism and domestic terrorism.
Prior to the Injustice Files, Beauchamp's most critically acclaimed work brought new attention to the heinous murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Till, a 14-year old boy from Chicago, who was visiting relatives in rural Mississippi and allegedly flirtatiously whistled at a White woman—a cultural crime in the American deep south of 1955. The woman's husband and brother-in-law took Emmett Till from his uncle's house in the middle of the night.
The vicious torture and murder of Emmitt Till, according to Mrs. Rosa Parks, inspired her to take a more active role in the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to surrender her seat to a White man (thus, challenging the application of federal law on buses in Montgomery, Alabama) just six months after Till's victimization. As Mrs. Parks did in 1955, people of conscience today must pursue justice by reforming public policy.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was introduced to establish an Unsolved Crimes Section within the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. Since then, funding issues have stymied progress of the Act.
If "cold cases" such as the ones featured in The Injustice Files are to be solved federal legislation must have enforcement provisions to meaningfully aid prosecutors and families in court. In particular:
• Congress should appropriate funds necessary for fulfillment of Emmett Till Act
• Congressional oversight hearings are needed to examine activities of law enforcement officials relative to Emmett Till Act
• The relationship between federal and local prosecutors must be better defined
• The relationship between Ku Klux Klan members and local police and sheriffs must be revealed
• A "Family Bill of Rights" must be defined in information sharing between law enforcement officials and families
• Families must be given status updates on a regular basis by law enforcement officials
• A full accounting of unsolved disappearances, "accidents", "suicides", "self-defense" must be compiled
• Cases determined "outside of jurisdiction" of Emmett Till Act must be covered by new legislation
Federal legislation must be matched by state, county, and municipal policy that emboldens prosecutors and families and imprisoned murderers. The collective voices of our ancestors direct us to pursue justice in unsolved murder cases.
Gary L. Flowers is the Executive Director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc