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Bringing Closure to Racially Motivated Murders from the Civil Rights Era

Committee of Jurisdiction: Law, Justice, Ethics

Introduction

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, law enforcement in many states failed to protect civil rights activists from violent, racist opposition. To this day, there are racially-motivated murders from the civil rights era that remain unsolved. 

Recently, the federal government has shown interest in these cases.  In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation began its "Cold Case Initiative" and the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was signed into law in October 2008 to address deadly violations of criminal civil rights statutes that occurred before December 31, 1969.  While the federal government has concluded the investigation into 105 of 113 cold cases, there are still many cases that remain unsolved.  Moreover, state and local officials have ties to the community that the federal government does not have, which enables them to unearth evidence that could bring closure for these victim's families. 

Even though many of these cases do not end in a prosecution because the perpetrator of the crime is dead, it is still helpful for the victim's family members to understand that the state recognizes a crime was committed and is committed to rectifying the situation.



State Action

NBCSL members have taken steps to bring justice to the families of those murdered for advocating for civil rights during the civil rights era.

TENNESSEE

House Bill 1306 (2017), an Act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 3, Chapter 1, Part 1, relative to unsolved civil rights crimes.
tennessee NBCSL Sponsor: Rep. Johnnie Turner (TN)

NBCSL Co-sponsors: Rep. G.A. Hardaway (TN), Rep. Raumesh Akbari (TN), Rep. Karen Camper (TN), Rep. Harold Love (TN), Rep. Brenda Gilmore (TN), Rep. Joe Towns, Jr. (TN), Rep. Rick Staples (TN), Rep. Barbara Cooper (TN), Rep. Larry J. Miller (TN)

Summary:  Creates a special joint committee to study issues relating to the investigation and prosecution of unsolved civil rights crimes and cold cases from the civil rights era.

Goals: Under this bill, a special joint committee will make recommendations on the appropriate means to conduct investigations and prosecutions of civil rights crimes that remain open.

Point(s) of Discussion: None
 
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