NAACP, SCLC Seek Expansion of Civil Rights Death Law

There has only been one prosecution since the Emmett Till Act was signed in by then-President George Bush in 2008.

When former President George Bush signed the Emmett Till Act into law in 2008, families whose loved ones were killed in unsolved slayings during the civil rights era hoped to finally get justice.

Named after a Black Chicago teenager who was killed after reportedly flirting with a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, the law was passed with the promise of $135 million for police work and an army of federal agents. But, as AP reports, there has only been one prosecution: In 2010, a former Alabama trooper pleaded guilty to killing a Black protester in 1965.

While all but 20 of the 126 deaths investigated under the law proved to be too old to prosecute (meaning that suspects and witnesses had died), an unknown number of killings have not been investigated because the law does not address slayings after 1969.

AP also reports that Congress has not appropriated millions of dollars in grant money that was meant to aid states in launching their own investigations.

"For whatever reason the leadership does not seem to have made it a priority," said law professor Janis McDonald, co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse. McDonald also claimed that the Justice Department never created regional task forces to investigate killings and merely reviewed documents in many cases.

Now, the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other proponents are advocating for more details reviews and the use of the grant money that was authorized in 2007.

"We can never let people think they can get away with these types of horrific crimes," SCLC President Charles Steele Jr. told AP.
The law will expire in 2017 unless Congress decides to extend it.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

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