Emmett Till bill could pave way for reopening more civil rights cold cases
December 13, 2016 Jerry Mitchell, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger – USA TODAY NETWORK
Congress on Tuesday passed legislation that would give the FBI the opportunity to pursue more civil rights cold cases.
If President Obama signs the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes bill as expected, the FBI could expand its investigations from cold cases before 1970 to include those that occurred before 1980.
Since 1989, authorities across the U.S. have reopened and prosecuted civil rights cold cases, leading to 24 convictions, beginning with the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers. Beckwith received a life sentence in prison, where he died.
The FBI and Justice Department aided in a number of those cases, taking the lead in the successful prosecutions in the early 2000s of Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry for their roles in the Ku Klux Klan‘s 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls. In 2003, the Justice Department successfully prosecuted Ernest Avants for the 1966 killing of Ben Chester White and four years later won the conviction of James Ford Seale for the 1964 kidnapping and killing of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.
In 2005, a Mississippi jury convicted Edgar Ray Killen for orchestrating the killings of three civil rights workers, and activist Alvin Sykes pushed for federal legislation, calling for a coordinated effort to pursue these cold cases.
He named the legislation after Till [S.2854 – Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016], who was beaten and killed in Mississippi in 1955. An all-white jury acquitted two men who later confessed to Look magazine they had indeed killed him.
Summary of Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016
To reauthorize the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007.
This Act may be cited as the “Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016”.
SEC. 2. INVESTIGATION OF UNSOLVED CIVIL RIGHTS CRIMES.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 (28 U.S.C. 509 note) is amended—
- to coordinate the sharing of information and to discuss the status of the Department’s work under this Act
- support the full accounting of all victims whose deaths or disappearances were the result of racially motivated crimes
- hold accountable under Federal and State law all individuals who were perpetrators of, or accomplices in, unsolved civil rights murders and such disappearances
- express the condolences of the authority to the communities affected by unsolved civil rights murders, and to the families of the victims of such murders and such disappearances
- keep families regularly informed about the status of the investigations of such murders and such disappearances of their loved ones
- expeditiously comply with requests for information received pursuant to section 552 of title 5, United States Code, (commonly known as the ‘Freedom of Information Act’) and develop a singular, publicly accessible repository of these disclosed documents.”
REVIEW OF CLOSED CASES.—The Deputy Chief may, to the extent practicable, reopen and review any case involving a violation described in paragraph (1) that was closed prior to the date of the enactment of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016 without an in-person investigation or review conducted by an officer or employee of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or by an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
IN GENERAL.—The Department shall hold meetings with representatives of the Civil Rights Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Community Relations Service, eligible entities, and where appropriate, state and local law enforcement to discuss the status of the Department’s work under this Act.
Alvin Sykes is a civil right activist who investigates unsolved murder cases of African Americans that occurred during the Civil Rights Movement era within the United States. He is also the impetus for the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, a federal law enacted in 2008. The Emmett Till law is due to expire and Sykes is seeking to expand the law and make it permanent.
December 16, 2016
President Obama signs the
Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016
making it a permanent law