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Noisy Racists Will Only Get You So Far

Donna Ladd and Natalie Irby have been providing important coverage of the Edgar Ray Killen trial, on the Jackson Free Press blogs.

Yesterday Natalie Irby offered some strong analysis of Killen defense attorney James McIntyre's closing argument, and I responded, expanding on my post from Tuesday, about Attorney General Jim Hood's closing argument.

Natalie rightly notes the overtly racist insinuations in McIntyre's statements and takes him to task for them:

Mr. McIntyre also played the crime card—pointing to “murders in Jackson, Mississippi” as his cliché to remind the jurors that there is plenty of crime today to keep the state busy. “Crime knocks at our door every day,” he said, using an excuse—and a race-tinged one at that—used repeatedly over the years here for not prosecuting this and other civil-rights cases.

Why this case, the reasoning goes? Because this wound has been left to fester for too long. Without justice there can be no reconciliation. It is the crimes left unprosecuted that keep the wounds open—not the prosecution itself. The case involving the murder of the three civil rights workers has never been put to rest, and convicting Killen would only be a start. There is so much hate and destruction that has yet to be addressed here, even as we work toward a positive future; thus, Mr. McIntyre better hold on to his seat.

He claims that it is the trial that is dividing us, and that Mississippi has “made more strides on racial balance than any other state in the Union.” Mississippi is not the model state for race relations. If I hear one more time that Mississippi is progressive because it has the most black elected officials of any other state in the country, I am going to scream. We should have had the most black elected officials a long time ago. According to Mississippi’s demographic make-up, we should have a lot of black officials—yet, the electorate has not elected a statewide black official since Reconstruction. Thus, patting ourselves on the back is a little much.

While I agree with Natalie's arguments about McIntyre, I wanted to press the point that we should worry more about Jim Hood and Mark Duncan. Here's what I added to my post from Tuesday, in response to Natalie:

I expect Killen's defense attorney to be the sort of racist that McIntyre proves himself to be. His statements are reasonably predictable, as far as I'm concerned. But let's look at how Jim Hood, the supposed emissary of the victims' families conducted himself in the courtroom, too. . . .

My blog post was written in the heat of anger on Tuesday. I stand by the assessment even if I'd moderate my tone were I to write it again. I say that Jim Hood is lying because he did not do his duty. He did not bring all the witnesses to the stand. He did not request help (i.e., evidence!!) from Justice Department and request a special prosecutor, as has been done in most of other civil rights era murder cases that have been reopened. Hood also did not give adequate time to reviewing the evidence for other possible indictments of the 9 other living suspects and has come out at various times and essentially admitted that he is purposefully pursuing Killen and only Killen.

It is most definitely called for to call out the racism in men like McIntyre and Killen, who are obviously birds of a feather. But the real changes won't be won unless those who are charged with pursuing justice and change are held to a high standard. I would argue that Jim Hood's complicity in protecting white, racist murderers is actually more dangerous than the obvious, cartoonish stuff of McIntyre.

We are at a dangerous crossroads where either Hood and Duncan's victory will be declared the coup de grace that allows Mississippi to move on or the conviction will be the first step in a bona-fide process of pursuing truth and rendering justice. I worry that Hood and Duncan's actions suggest they lean toward the former when we need them to do the latter. They are the ones with power to decide which one it will be. McIntyre is just the foil for their heroic personae.

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