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Justice Department Reopens Emmett Till Case But What About Modern-Day Lynchings

The Department of Justice is reopening the case surrounding the brutal, racially motivated murder of Emmett Till in 1955. The announcement was made in March, citing newly discovered information pertinent to the case, but made its way into headlines on Thursday.

But why now


The decision was sparked by information in a 2017 book, “The Blood of Emmett Till” by historian Timothy Tyson. The author doesn’t believe his book could lead to criminal charges, though.

“It’s possible that the investigation will turn up something. But there’s nothing that I know of, and nothing in my research, that is actionable, I don’t think,” he told the Associated Press. “But I’m not an attorney or a detective.”

The woman who lied about Till coming on to her, Carolyn Donham, is still alive and admitted in a 2008 interview that she had lied in her testimony when she said Till touched her. Tyson also reports this in his book. But he doesn’t think Donham can be held criminally accountable for anything today.

“Because the only thing that she disclosed to me is perjury, that she testified falsely in court,” Tyson told the Washington Post. “The statute of limitations on that ran out in 1958.”

Donham’s ex-husband, Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law J.W. Milam are the only two people who were charged in Till’s murder. An all-white jury acquitted them, although they later admitted to the heinous crime to the press. (Donham and Bryant eventually divorced.)

Both men have passed away. Anyone else who was considered a suspect at the time has also since died.

Reporter Chuck Modi criticized the decision to open Till’s case instead of looking to present-day cases that suffered injustice due to racism.

Related Story: The Data Is In: Police Disproportionately Killed Black People in 2017

Today, innocent Black men and boys continue to be lynched — notably at the hands of law enforcement officers, and often when they are unarmed. More often than not, like in Till’s death, no one is punished for the crime. And those who try to shed light on the issue — including Black Lives Matter activists and athletes who use their platform to push for social justice — are often criticized or even criminalized.

More information on the Till case could still be on its way, though, the Post reported:

“Tyson received a copy of Donham’s unpublished memoir, ‘More Than a Wolf Whistle: The Memoir of Carolyn Bryant Donham,’ which he gave to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under the restriction that it not be released until 2036 or until Donham’s death.”

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