Leave Till Alone
I remember the photo of Emmett Till's bloated body in a book that discussed his killing. I was there in NYC for the premier of the Emmett Till documentary. It is something I keep with me always. It with this that I find myself objecting to the exhbumation of Emmett Till's body and the dragging of this case into the present. And I am not the only one as there are members of the Till family that also object. But let's focus on my objections. Today I read a piece by Earl Ofari Hutchinson in which he argues that the Till case still matters:
Yet Justice Department officials still refused to do anything. They claimed that state officials were solely responsible for prosecuting racially motivated crimes, and if they refused or conducted a farce of a prosecution as was the case with the Till murder, there was little they could do about it. This, however, was blatant legal evasion. Federal statutes gave the Justice Department the power to prosecute individuals on civil rights charges when state prosecutors either failed to bring charges, or conducted a weak, ineffectual prosecution that resulted in acquittals. Federal law also gave the Justice Department the power to prosecute public officials and law enforcement officers who committed or conspired with others to commit acts of racial violence. Congress enacted the latter statutes immediately after the Civil War and they were aimed at specifically punishing racial attacks against blacks. In many of the racial killings local sheriffs and police officers directly participated in the attacks, or aided and abetted the killers.
On the surface this seems like a string argument but in fact it is sentimental and emotative and in my opinion will yeild nothing that we do not already know which is as follows:
Till, either due to a speech impediment or due to a childish wish to show off, made a whistling sound at a white woman in a candy store. Because of this, at least two white men came to the home of Till's uncle and removed him at gunpoint. He was taken somewhere beaten and shot in the head. He was bound with barbed wire to a weight and dumped in a river. His body was found by someone fishing. The white men involved were put on trial and aquitted. The main argument used was that the body was not Till's. The men involved eventually confessed to the killing before they died.
So what else do we need to know? Were there more people involved? Perhaps, but there will not be anything found on the body to prove that. What else? That the Klan was behind it? Maybe, but given that white men in the South, Klanmen or not, could up and take a black man's life on a whim means that it really doesn't matter. If there were indeed more people involved why wasn't that said in the documentary? The uncle and a couple of other blacks who had direct knowledge of the event never took the opportunity to tell who else was involved. So since I don't think they are liars I'm inclined to believe the crime was done by the two men who are now dead.
Personally I think this is graps for attention by the old guard of the Civil Rights movement, who are struggling to find some relevance as their time on the earth comes to an end. Instead of dealing with the issues of the here and now, they retreat to the horrors of the then.
So I say, put the body back in the ground.. We honor Emmett Till by addressing the problems of today.