Remembering Emmett Till

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On this day 65 years ago, 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till was murdered in Money, Mississippi.

He was brutally beaten, shot and lynched. His body was later found in the Tallahatchie River — weighed down by a cotton gin fan wrapped in barbed wire.

The reason? Emmett, visiting from Chicago, had allegedly whistled at a white woman at a store in Money. Decades later, the woman admitted that the event had never happened, and that her accusation against Emmett Till was completely fabricated.

Hours later, the white woman’s family came after Emmett, kidnapping him in the middle of the night from his uncle’s home. Fueled by nothing but rank racism, this woman lied and an innocent boy paid with his life. This heinous cruelty is part of our state’s troubled legacy.

At the time of Emmett’s murder, my family owned a funeral home nearby. Our family’s funeral home helped to retrieve the mutilated body and respectfully helped to put Emmett Till’s casket on the train bound for Chicago.

At the funeral in Chicago, Mamie Till Mobley, his mother, insisted that the coffin be left open so that everyone could see what those men did to her son. People were forced to stare injustice in the face — literally. And because of her courage and pain, the modern day civil rights movement grew even more.

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Today feels especially heavy given the continued loss of Black lives to excessive police force, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many people we don’t know about — at the hands of police. This week alone, a father named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in front of his young children.

Jacob Blake survived, and his father says he is now paralyzed from the waist down and may never walk again. His children, who witnessed the horrific incident will forever live with the trauma. I continue to keep his family in my prayers.

What Jacob experienced is unconscionable, part of a systemic pattern across our country that must be addressed with commonsense reform. Millions of people have spent weeks or months marching in the streets this summer, chanting “Black Lives Matter,” and peacefully calling for change.

I’ve marched and I’ve listened. It’s time we pass clear, necessary reforms, including hiring more police officers of color, requiring stringent background checks on police applicants and new hires, mandating anti-bias and de-escalation training, banning chokeholds and other potentially deadly restraints, and requiring all officers to wear body cameras that cannot be turned off while on duty.

As a Black man and the father of three Black children, I know these steps will not eradicate racism and prejudice. These policies are important and live-saving measures we can take to prevent this pattern of abuse within our criminal justice system that disproportionately hurts Black lives.

Alaina, we will only make progress if we unite, speak up, march, organize, vote, pass laws, and hold our leaders accountable.

That’s why today I’m calling on the state of Mississippi to issue an official apology to Emmett Till, Mamie Till Mobley, and the entire Till family.

Just as Mississippi issued an official apology to the Freedom Riders in 2011, we need an apology for Emmett. Demanding accountability for Mississippi’s role in creating an environment that tolerated and bred hateful ideologies and violence is a small, but powerful, step in turning the page on our troubled history.

Sixty-five years after Emmett Till’s murder, we have much work to do to ensure freedom and justice for all. Alaina, will you sign our petition calling on the state of Mississippi to issue an official apology for the murder of Emmett Till?

The fight continues.

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