Above All, Racists Are Cowards

1955 photo by David Jackson of Jet Magazine showing Emmitt Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley looking down at her dead son's beaten and disfigured body

1955 photo by David Jackson of Jet Magazine showing Emmitt Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley looking down at her dead son's beaten and disfigured body
On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured, beaten, and lynched by white men who said the Black youth had made a pass at a white woman. That woman was the wife of one of the hangmen, and it was later revealed that she had lied about her encounter with young Emmett. On August 1st of this year, a national monument was erected to honor Till, and at that ceremony, there was hope among some of us stupidly naïve Americans that we might see an end to violent racism and discrimination in our lifetime. Sadly, not only are race relations still bad, they are in some ways, even worse than in 1955.

Just two days after Till was honored, 62-year-old Kimberly Jennings, a white woman, assaulted two Black children at an apartment complex swimming pool in Greensboro. The boy and his sister were both under 12 years old and, though they did not live at the complex, they had, according to their attorney, been invited by a friend to swim there. Regardless of the details, however, Jennings had no right to throw a drink on the little boy and hit him repeatedly in the face, which is what she did. She was arrested that day and a federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the two children. Later Jennings told WFMY News that she was sorry for her actions. Or perhaps she was just sorry that she got caught. There’s no way for us to know what’s in her heart. There’s also no way to know if Ms. Jennings would have hit a young white boy for not being a member of her pool, but I doubt it. I also doubt that she would have hit an 18-year-old Black youth instead of picking on an 11-year-old Black boy. No matter how you cut it, her bullying, cowardly actions smacked of racism, and we’ll see how they play out in a courtroom.

Speaking of bullies and cowards, on August 14, six Mississippi cops pleaded guilty to having tortured two Black men earlier this year, and to shooting one of them in the face. The six white officers operated under the nickname “Goon Squad” and were known to abuse their authority, like the day they illegally broke into the home of Kristi Walley, and proceeded to torture and assault Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker who were in the house at the time. The officers were called to the scene based on a phone call from a white neighbor who said that two Black men were living with a white woman (Ms. Walley). The six white cops arrived, and for 90 minutes did unspeakable things to Jenkins and Parker including using a stun gun on them, staging a mock execution, and assaulting them with a sex toy. One officer also shot Jenkins in the mouth and the bullet lacerated his tongue and broke his jaw. As it turns out, Mr. Parker was at the house to care for his lifelong friend Ms. Walley who is paralyzed. The six racist cowards face up to 30 years in prison each.

So here we are in the month of August 2023, seven decades removed from Emmett Till’s murder, and there are still white racist cowards roaming free in our midst. Whether you’re a white adult assaulting a Black child, a white cop torturing young Black men, or white legislators disenfranchising Black voters, it all comes down to the same thing. Racists always have to have an advantage over their victims. There was never just one KKK member who lynched a Black man. There wasn’t just one white guy acting alone who murdered three Freedom Riders in 1964. And when a white guy massacred nine unarmed worshipers at a Black church in 2015, he was armed with a semi-automatic weapon. Cowards and racists always have an advantage of some kind, either in size, numbers, dogs, water hoses, or guns… or laws.

I could say something clever like, “I bet Emmett Till is spinning in his grave right now,” but the sad fact is, I don’t think Emmett would be at all surprised by how some white people behave today. This August began with a reminder of the past and hope for the future. It is ending with a reminder that the future is a long way off.


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