Now What?

Edgar Ray Killen has been found guilty of manslaughter for the killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. Many Mississippians, many southerners, many Americans are relieved that justice was finally done. So what now? There was considerable argument that the Killen trial was a show trial, that after 41 years it was senseless to go through this against an 80-year-old man in failing health. Others argued it was a show trial because it was a symbol of a changed Mississippi. It was neither. It was a murder trial, one that should have been held long, long ago. But the failure of the State of Mississippi to do the right thing does not in any way lessen the guilt of Edgar Ray Killen. He has lived to be an old man, to enjoy the company of his family and friends, because he was never tried for denying those very things to the three men he helped kill. There should be no sympathy for him. So now what? In a narrow, local sense, the killings were done by a group. Some of those are still alive. It should now be their turn. Where evidence can be found, any one implicated should be investigated and tried. There are more never-investigated, never-prosecuted crimes dating from the civil rights era. Where those can still be investigated, they should be. If this isn’t done, then indeed the Killen trial will have been just a show trial, Mississippi trotting out it’s legal system to show the nation and the world how much we want to say we’ve changed.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that while this trial was beginning, the Senate was voting to apologize for never enacting anti-lynching legislation. 85 Senators co-sponsored the resolution making the apology. Mississippi’s two senators, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, refused to join. Cochran, who had earlier in his career co-sponsored similar resolutions apologizing for treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and of Native Americans for the way they were treated, said he felt he could not apologize “for something I did not do.” Are we left, then, to assume he had some direct involvement in the internment of Japanese-Americans, or the breaking of treaties with Native Americans? I’ve mentioned before how much of a disappointment Thad Cochran has become to me. This, however, is shocking. And Trent Lott, who had told Ed Gordon of NPR, “

June 22, 2005 В· Harry В· Comments Closed
Posted in: Mississippi