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The U.S. Justice Department has not done enough to investigate civil rights era murders as mandated by the Emmett Till Act of 2008, named for the 14-year old (pictured) tortured and killed in Mississippi in 1955. (Photo: Public domain)

UN to Consider US Government's Role in Ignoring Civil Rights Era Murders

'There are potentially thousands of suspicious race killings at the hands of local police yet the federal and local governments refuse to investigate many of these deaths,' justice team says

Nadia Prupis

A United Nations panel will consider on Thursday whether the U.S. Department of Justice failed to account for hundreds of murders and disappearances of black men and women by groups like the Ku Klux Klan during the Civil Rights era.

The Cold Case Justice Initiative, a team of lawyers and rights experts from Syracuse University led by professors Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald, is set to tell the UN's human rights council in Geneva that the Justice Department did not properly investigate a spate of racially motivated violence that took place in the Jim Crow south during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, despite a recent law mandating that the FBI look into the events.

"The United States has never come to terms with accountability for the devastating loss of life during a time of domestic terrorism that continued in many forms after the legal end to slavery," Johnson and McDonald wrote in their official submission to the panel.

More than 300 suspicious killings and disappearances of black Americans have yet to be acknowledged by the bureau, let alone solved, according to the justice initiative, which independently investigates the cold cases.

According to the initiative, the amount of murders and missing persons cases suggests that there have been hundreds, or even thousands, of white supremacy killers who have escaped justice—and may even still be alive.

The UN is currently in the process of a months-long review of the U.S. human rights record, which has received international attention following recent protests sparked by the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri. A wave of high-profile police brutality cases around the country have fueled the ongoing movement, resulting in a federal investigation into the Ferguson Police Department's racist and unconstitutional tactics and the subsequent resignations and firings of several city officials.

The Cold Case Justice Initiative will draw parallels between those recent events and the group's research. The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2008, named for the black teen who was tortured and drowned in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, was passed to help the FBI investigate and prosecute murders from that era. While government officials have defended the bureau's record in those cases, the justice initiative will argue that there have been several basic failings in the FBI's work.

"Only a handful of names have been added to the partial list that existed when the law was passed," its submission states.

Since 2008, there has only been one successful prosecution of one of those cases. In 2010, former Alabama state trooper James Bonard Fowler confessed to shooting civil rights protester Jimmie Lee Jackson. Fowler was sentenced to six months in prison.

Nonetheless, the justice initiative will call for the Emmett Till Act to extend beyond 2017, when it is set to expire. The lawyers will ask that it be amended to include the more recent police killings of black teens.

"There are potentially thousands of suspicious race killings at the hands of local police yet the federal and local governments refuse to investigate many of these deaths," the initiative stated.


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