The U.S. Senate passed legislation on Wednesday that concludes a long, hard-fought battle to allocate more funding to reopen Civil Rights-era criminal cases that have gone cold. The legislation authorizes $10 million annually over 10 years to help the FBI and other agencies investigate civil rights cases that occurred before 1970 and resulted in death
The U.S. Senate passed legislation on Wednesday that concludes a long, hard-fought battle to allocate more funding to reopen Civil Rights-era criminal cases that have gone cold. The legislation authorizes $10 million annually over 10 years to help the FBI and other agencies investigate civil rights cases that occurred before 1970 and resulted in death. Additional funds are included for local law enforcement agencies.
Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., were the original co-sponsors of H.R. 923, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, when the legislation was brought up in the U.S. House. The bill passed the U.S. House overwhelmingly last summer, by a margin of 422-2.
"This is a bi-partisan, bi-cameral victory," Rep. Lewis said on Wednesday evening. "It took members from both sides of the aisle to see the benefit of this legislation and to ensure that it passed. Congressman Hulshof used his invaluable experience as a prosecutor of tough murder cases in Missouri to make this bill real to members of Congress. He has seen the damage that is done to families who have suffered crime that is never brought to trial. The pain in their faces fueled his ambition to see this legislation through and win the support within the Republican conference that led to final passage."
The bill bears the name of Emmett Till, a teenager who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman. Till's killers were never convicted, although one of the murderers later confessed their actions to Look magazine.
"We can no longer idly stand by and allow these civil rights cold cases to collect dust on shelves," Hulshof said on Wednesday. "We owe it to the victims and their families to provide them with long-overdue justice, and I am glad we can finally start allocating specific funds to solve these murders, which touched off a tragic time in our nation's history."
"Mr. Lewis' diligence and perseverance on this legislation were instrumental in getting us where we are today," Hulshof said. "Indeed, it is truly an honor for me to stand in league with Mr. Lewis on the Emmett Till bill, given that he played such a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement. Additionally, much gratitude is owed to Alvin Sykes, the President of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, and former U.S. Senator Jim Talent. Had it not been for both of these fine individuals, we would not be celebrating this bill's passage today. Mr. Sykes was inspirational in reopening the Emmett Till case, going to Senator Talent with the idea that ultimately spawned this legislation."
This legislation will establish an Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office within the Federal Bureau of Investigations to investigate pre-1970 cases in conjunction with state and local authorities. H.R. 923 will also create an Unsolved Crimes Section, within the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, to prosecute these cold cases.
"Certainly, we're glad and just so appreciative that Congress passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act," Sykes said on Wednesday. "And we're, in particular, proud to have received the support of Congressman Kenny Hulshof whose leadership was instrumental in getting this bill through."
Since 1989, 29 unsolved civil rights murder cases have been reopened and reexamined, resulting in 23 convictions and closure to countless families who continue to suffer from injustices perpetrated so long ago.