UN Human Rights Council Reviews US Failings on Racial Murders from Civil Rights Era

On Thursday, the United Nations human rights council heard evidence concerning the US failure to investigate and punish racial murders from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Al Jazeera America news anchor John Seigenthaler discussed the development with me on his Friday evening show.

According to The Guardian lawyers and human rights experts for the Syracuse University Cold Case Justice Initiative brought evidence that

the wave of racial violence that swept through the deep south in the 1940s, 50s and 60s has never been accounted for, despite a congressional law passed seven years ago that instructed the FBI to look again at the issue….

They will tell the UN – as part of the world body’s review of the human rights record of the US that reaches a climax in May – that they have compiled a list of more than 300 suspicious killings that the FBI have not even recognized, let alone cleared up. By that calculation there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of individual murderers who have killed in the name of white supremacy and enjoyed total impunity.

A small but unknown number of them are still alive and at large.

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,” the Syracuse team, led by professors Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald of the Cold Case Justice Initiative, will tell the UN.

The Guardian discussed the Justice Department failures with my Civil Rights Cold Case Project colleague Stanley Nelson:

Stanley Nelson, a reporter with the Concordia Sentinel in Louisiana, has spent more than seven years investigating racial violence in Concordia parish and across the state lines in Natchez, Mississippi. This area of the deep south was the epicenter of the violent white backlash in the civil rights era and was the home of the Silver Dollar Group, a vicious offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan.

Nelson said he had been personally frustrated by the way in which the DoJ and the FBI have handled the new look into these cold crimes”. Instead of setting up specialist teams of detectives and prosecutors that could focus their energies exclusively on trying to clear up unsolved murders, they left the investigations to regional FBI offices already busy with current criminal cases. As a result the attention given was patchy at best.

Nelson said it was a battle against the clock, as witnesses and suspects were steadily dying. When I wrote about my first cold case in 2007 I started to keep an obituary file of individuals who had died – now it’s an inch thick,” he said.

March 28, 2015