The family of Emmett Till is still waiting for charges to be brought against Carolyn Bryant Donham who lied 66 years ago to her husband that the 14 year old grabbed and assaulted her as he left a store in Money, Mississippi. That lie led to his brutal death. The family of Breonna Taylor is still waiting for someone to be held accountable for her death. Ahmaud Arbery’s mother had to fight the judge to make sure her son’s killers were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Why is accountability and true justice so hard for Black people to get?
“The justice system wasn’t built for marginalized people to get justice. We have as my hero, Thurgood Marshall said, ‘they never meant for the constitution to apply to us,’” Attorney Benjamin Crump told The Final Call. “We are going to make it apply to us anyway. We have to continue to draw strength from our ancestors who overcame so much for us to get to this moment in history,” he added.
“We have to be united in the cause for justice. We can’t try to pick and choose who is worthy of justice. We are all worthy of justice. I don’t care where you’re from. I don’t care what your rap sheet is. I don’t care what your salary is, all are worthy of justice. We have to stand up for Black people to get equal justice, no matter what the circumstance or the situation is.” Atty. Crump has represented several families of Black men, women and children in their ongoing fights for justice in America’s courts in the aftermath of police and vigilante killings.
Many Black people thought things were going to be different under a Biden administration. Many thought his justice department, his Democratic Congress would be more favorable to Black people and get more things done.
However, the Biden Justice Department closed the Emmet Till investigations in December 2021 that were opened in 2004 and 2018 and did not announce new charges. After that disappointment the family gathered over 250K signatures calling for murder charges to be brought against Carolyn Bryant Donham. The Till family and supporters delivered the petition with the signatures to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in March.
The petition asks for Attorney Fitch and Fourth Circuit Court District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, who represents the Delta region, to advance Till’s case by charging Ms. Donham. In the petition, the Till family also asked for an official apology from the federal government, DOJ, the State of Mississippi and local law enforcement.
“We hold the State of Mississippi responsible for bringing justice forward,” Deborah Watts, a cousin of Till and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said to a member of Attorney Fitch’s office. “You have the opportunity. You just need the will and the courage to make that happen.”
The foundation organized supporters to gather at the Mississippi capital in March to continue the demand for justice 66 years after Emmett Till’s death.
“We will bear witness to the hatred that has been embedded in our DNA since the slave ships arrived,” said Ms. Watts. “We made a promise to Mamie (Till) that we would persist and that’s why we’re here,” she said referencing the boy’s courageous mother.
Justice delayed and justice denied seems relegated mostly to Black people. Jewish people, swore never to forget what happened to them during the Holocaust, and are fixated, unapologetic and unrelenting on bringing to justice and accountability to everyone that wrongs them.
Some are even looking for the man or men who betrayed the Frank family (“The Diary of Anne Frank”) while they secretly hid from the Nazis for two years in an Amsterdam annex during World War II. Scholars and historians have researched who that could have been to bring that person to justice.
“From its inception, the criminal legal system was meant to persecute Black people, not serve as an instrument for justice of Black victims. The killers of Emmett Till boasted about their murder but still got found ‘not guilty’ by an all-White jury. The only reason they were prosecuted in the first place is due to massive protest from the Black community,” Attorney Hakeem Muhammad told The Final Call.
“One thing I respect about members of the Jewish community is that they are actively investigating and seeking to bring to justice those wicked individuals involved in the Holocaust. I saw a documentary where they identified the individual who betrayed Anne Frank. No matter how old many of those who partook in the Holocaust were, there is a willingness and determination to indict them for crimes against humanity,” stated the young attorney.
“It is not too late to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham for her role in the murder of Emmet Till. Black people must apply pressure and go after those who participated in the oppression of our people with vigilance,” added Atty. Muhammad.
Where is that vigilance when it comes to crimes committed against Black people? Where is the absolute commitment from organizations that serve Black people, the elected officials, do people only have God to wait on for justice to be served? What is the hope for Black people in any kind of accountability to be had?
It took 100 years for George Tompkins’ death to be ruled a murder. In March an Indianapolis coroner issued a new death certificate that changed his lynching from suicide to homicide. In 1922, he was found hanging from a tree with his hands tied behind his back. The authorities ruled his death a suicide.
“Accountability is really only provided to those who the dominant culture believes should be held accountable. Accountability is only provided to those that the dominant culture believes are worthy of it. Unfortunately, the dominant perspective or perception of us as a collective, since we got here in 1619, is that we’re not worthy of that because we’re less than human,” Dr. Wilmer Leon, political scientist, syndicated columnist and author told The Final Call.
“Unfortunately on our side of the equation many of us have internalized that mindset. We’ll only press so far. I’m speaking very generally now. We care a lot more about being liked. We care a lot less about being respected, let alone feared. From a legal perspective or from a policy perspective, there have been laws on the books that provide us protection, whether it’s racial bias or whether it’s voting rights protection. However, you can’t legislate people’s hearts and people’s minds,” said Dr. Leon.
“Those legal protections are very slowly and sometimes not so suddenly being overturned. Where’s the Congressional Black Caucus on this? Where’s the NAACP on this? Where’s the outrage from those in supposed positions of leadership that are supposed to be leading the clarion call or making the clarion call here?” he asked.
“They are conspicuously silent as far as I can tell and those who are making the call such as the Minister are dismissed,” Dr. Leon added, referring to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
For decades, the Minister has taught on the importance of justice and the repercussions from the continued denial of justice for those who seek it. Justice is the joy of freedom and it is also the prerequisite to life, Min. Farrakhan teaches. Agitation for justice is right but there is also a consequence when justice is denied, he added.
“Justice is the law that distinguishes between right and wrong. Justice is fair dealing. If it were not for the fact that this world is a world of injustice, there would be no need for the prophets to tell us of a Righteous Judge that would come to judge a world that has deprived the people of justice,” Min. Farrakhan stated.