The Rev. William Barber, whose national Poor People’s Campaign is winning comparison to Martin Luther King, likened President Donald Trump’s impeachment acquittal to predetermined outcomes seen by blacks in the segregated South before the Civil Rights Movement.
“Poor people across this country know that what we are watching McConnell do is he is pulling out the old Southern Justice playbook – where the outcome is decided before a fake trial begins – just like it was in those that were tried that killed Emmett Till,” Barber said Jan. 29, prior to this week’s impeachment vote, in remarks at a Poor People’s Campaign event in Washington.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Photos of his open-casket funeral revealing his mutilated body – along with the all-white jury who found his killers not guilty – became an early impetus for the Civil Rights Movement.
“Southern Justice” is a term sociologists use to describe the prejudiced criminal justice system and vigilante violence against blacks through the 19th and into the 20th century by whites.
San Francisco State University professor Christopher Waldrep wrote in 2016 that white southerners viewed violence more effective in controlling black crime than the slower due process afforded by the courts. When black defendants did go to trial charged with crimes against white people, he said, courtrooms were often packed with mobs seeking to intimidate jurors and court officials.
Investigating Till’s murder was one of the first assignments of Medgar Evers, the first NAACP field secretary in the South who worked with James Meredith to integrate the University of Mississippi.
Evers was assassinated in 1963, just hours after President Kennedy had delivered a landmark speech on civil rights. It took 31 years to bring Evers’ assassin to justice in an effort dramatized by the 1996 film “Ghosts of Mississippi.”
Meredith, 86, is still advocating for racial justice and living in Jackson, Mississippi.
In comments this week to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, Barber said the “coordinated cover-up” to acquit Trump in the Senate “is deeply troubling to anyone who knows the history of Southern courthouses where district attorneys openly coordinated with all-white juries and corrupt judges to cover up acts of racial terror.”
“Why don’t we just call it what it is?” Barber said. “With patience and decorum, Mitch McConnell has brought Southern Justice to the United States Senate.”