Saturday, June 18, 2005

Justice Delayed?

Carolyn Goodman left court Friday after testifying in the case against Edgar Ray Killen, who prosecutors say orchestrated the killing of Mr. Goodman and two other civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner and James Earl Chaney.

As a young teenager I spent part of a summer doing Civil Rights work in Mississippi about 7 years after these murders. Though community leaders wanted us to help in voter registration the group leader who had brought us to MS wouldn't allow it. It was still too dangerous. We begged to be able to do so but to no avail. There was one college kid with us who was doing voter registration. I remember one night he told us that he had been at a home (these were run down rural shacks) talking about registration and 3 men in a pick up truck pulled up. One had a Machine Gun. They made it clear that he had to go, which he did. The fact that they had a machine gun shocked me and I've never forgotten it.

We were harassed by the police everyday. One evening they pulled over and threw us in the car after seeing us come out of a neighborhood bar. (We had gone there for cigarettes which was common for kids to do). But it was stupid of US as it gave them the excuse they needed. Once in the car I demanded to know why we were being arrested. No Answer. I then told them we had the constitutional right to know why we were being arrested. The cop turned around and got right in my face and said, "Do you know Mississippi law Girl cause you're in Mississippi now". I can't tell you how much I grew up in those 10 seconds and how frightened I became because I knew the story of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Ten seconds earlier I had been trying to figure a way out of being taken to jail. Now I was praying we were going to jail and not taken for a ride.

We were taken to jail, questioned and held for some time before being bailed out at $25 head. We went to court the next day and the DA dropped the charges. He seemed embarrassed especially since at that time everyone liked to talk about the so- called "New South". But as we filed out of court, the black owners of the bar remained to fight for their liquor license. They prevailed... barely. Something for which we felt terrible.

I went to Mississippi a young idealistic American. One seemingly long car ride changed me. I learned America isn't fair and justice is relative to who you are and where you are. I have heard a few people say leave the old man (Killen) alone. I cringe at that. Remember he has had a whole life. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner never did. And Carolyn Goodman had hers ripped apart. She said of her son:
"He didn't come here to be a martyr, he came here to serve the people. And now I'm here in his stead."
I applaud her for it.
I hope Mississippi will do what is right but I've had a lesson in MS law in the New South. People say it's different Now. Well today there are 13 US Senators who are unwilling to go on the record against lynching ..... including both of Mississippi 's senators. That tells me alot about just how much has changed.

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