Rep. Lewis Leads House Effort to Create DOJ Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Units
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) has joined forces with U.S Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Jim Talent (R-MO), and Rep. Kenny Hulsoff (R-MO) to push legislation that would create two new offices in the Department of Justice. They would focus on investigating and prosecuting unsolved Civil Rights-era murders, like the infamous Emmett Till case in Ms., which served as a catalyst for the modern-day Civil Rights Movement.
Other states, like Georgia, also have unsolved murders on the books, such as the 1946 lynching in Monroe, Ga. in which a pregnant African American woman and her husband were forced from their car by a mob. They were dragged 50 yards down a wagon trail and shot while a crowd of 200 people watched. No was ever charged in the murders. Last year the Georgia Association of Black Public Officials urged prosecutors to bring charges in the case.
"There are unsolved cases like these in many states in America." said Rep. Lewis, "If we allow these crimes to go unanswered, we cannot candidly declare we are a nation that believes in justice. By using the resources of the federal government to resolve these crimes, we are saying that historical context is no excuse for brutality in America. And we are reclaiming our integrity as a nation by doing what we can to right these wrongs today."
The bill would create an Unsolved Crimes Section, within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and an Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office within the FBI. Both offices will focus on prosecuting pre-1970 cases that resulted in death and still remain unsolved in coordination with state and local law enforcement officials. The Section Chief would be responsible for prosecuting these cases and would be required to report to Congress and the American people on their actions.
If a crime other than murder is discovered during the course of an investigation it will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement officials. The Section would report its findings to Congress annually on September 30th, the end of the federal fiscal year. The bill also provides $10 million in appropriations to establish both offices and funding for the Community Relations Service within the DOJ to work with local communities to solve these crimes.
Following is Rep. Lewis's statement at the news conference today:
I am very pleased to join Sen. Dodd, Sen. Talent, Rep. Hulshoff and all my House and Senate colleagues today to introduce this important and necessary legislation.
We live in a nation that believes in honor and respects the dignity of humankind. With this legislation, we are confirming those values today. We are saying, in effect, that historical context is no excuse for brutality in America. We are rejecting the reasons of yesterday that left these horrible crimes unpunished. We are reclaiming our dignity as a nation by doing what we can to right these wrongs today.
Our purpose here is not to open up old wounds, but to begin the process of healing. It is honor that restores dignity. It is justice that heals injustice. The Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act can help us bring this dark chapter of our history to a close, by delivering the focus and the resources necessary to put the mistakes of the past behind us.
It is my hope and prayer that the many crimes committed during this nation's struggle for civil rights will be solved as a result of this legislation. And maybe then we will move one step closer to reconciling ourselves with each other. We are one America, one nation, one people, and one human family. Thank you.