New Bill May Crack Civil Rights Cases - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/22/07

New Bill May Crack Civil Rights Cases

Looking back, the Civil Rights era was a time of change and progress.

It was also rampant with hate crimes and murders--and the loss of life of one boy from Chicago.

In 1955, 14 year old Emmett Till was brutally beaten for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The men accused of his killing were acquitted.

Emmett's case isn't the only one that wasn't closed.   Many people--even some in Alabama, were brutally murdered. In those cases, no suspect was ever brought to justice, something Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen says is unacceptable.

"There's never been an institutionalized commitment at the federal level to go after these cases systematically I think it's important that we try before its too late," he said.

Progress is being made.  On Wednesday, Congress passed the Emmett Till bill by an astounding margin.  The bill will help establish a new division of federal prosecutors and FBI agents that will focus solely on unsolved murders from the civil rights era. While it may be difficult to reopen old cases, the results may help in the long run.

"I don't think we should expect an avalanche of new prosecutions, but what I do think we should expect is a very systematic, sincere effort at the highest level to look at these cases," Cohen said.

If passed, the new bill would help dust off the case files of many victims, including some of the people named at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery.  However, while the act is much needed, more work still needs to be done.

"Our society still suffers from the scars of discrimination and we need to get about that work as well," Cohen said. 

Still, the passing of the bill will help bring old crimes to light, and maybe it will close the cases of social injustices from the past.

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