By State Representative, Leon D. Young
In 1955, the nation became transfixed with the brutal murder of Emmett Till.
Till was a Black fourteen-year-old from Chicago, Illinois. The youth had been sent to Money, Mississippi by his mother, Manie Till, to spend the summer with his uncle and some other relatives. One day during a trip to a local store, it is alleged that the teen-ager flirted with a White woman, Carolyn Bryant, the wife of the store’s owner.
According to historical accounts, three days later, Emmett Till was forcefully removed from his uncle’s home by two white men (Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother J.W. Milam) who savagely beat him to death. His mutilated body was later fished out of the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton gin fan, hanging from a barbed wire around his neck. His right eyeball was hanging onto his cheek, nose crushed, tongue choked out and a large bullet hole in his head.
Till’s remains were subsequently returned to Chicago and his mother (Manie Till), who had raised him mostly by herself, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing.
Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in Black magazines and newspapers, rallying popular Black support and white sympathy across the U.S. Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the condition of Black civil rights in Mississippi , with newspapers around the country critical of the state.
On February 26, 2012, a similar fate would befall Trayvon Martin. During the half-time show of the NBA All-Star Game, Trayvon decided to go to a local convenience store, where he purchased some Skittles and a can of iced tea. On his way back home in a gated-community, he encountered George Zimmerman, an unauthorized neighborhood watchman, and an individual with a penchant for calling the cops at the mere sight of seeing a Black man in his midst.
As expected, Zimmerman calls the police and reports that he has observed a “suspicious-looking” Black man around his home. He is then instructed by the dispatcher “to stay put” and not to encounter the individual in question. Zimmerman elects not to follow the explicit directive given by the dispatcher and pursues Trayvon carrying a loaded handgun. Trayvon, who is on his cell phone during part of the encounter, is heard crying out for help, and is subsequently shot to death by George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s assertion of “self-defense” is taken as Gospel: he’s not arrested and he’s even given back his gun by the authorities. The Sanford Police Department has been so recalcitrant and inept in its investigation of the instant case that the federal Justice Department and a state grand jury are now conducting their own investigations.
If any good is to come from the “calculated execution” of Trayvon Martin, it is my fervent hope that this case takes on the national significance and sense of moral outrage that Emmett Till’s murder had in 1955; and that this case helps to spearhead a movement to repeal “Stand Your Ground” legislation across this country.