We’ll leave the light on for you

Forty-one years, if necessary, and in the case of ex-Ku Klux Klan member Edgar Ray Killen, forty-one years to the day was what it took before a Mississippi jury decided to find him guilty of three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, 20, Michael Schwerner, 24, and James Earl Chaney, 21, who disappeared on this day, in 1964.
There was some disappointment that the jury was unable to reach a verdict finding Killen guilty of murder, and while jurors questioned refused to characterize the verdict as a compromise, let’s get real: I heard reports this morning that the jurors were deadlocked six-six, with six favoring acquittal. Killen is now 80, and confined to a wheelchair. Manslaughter carries up to 20 years on each count, and the murder charge did not carry the death penalty. In short: the result is the same. Edgar Killen will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison (or at least, appealing a homicide conviction). The fact that an ex-Klansman can be convicted of the homicide of civil rights workers in Mississippi is itself a sign of some advancement in the universe (in federal trials in the 1960’s on conspiracy charges, the jury was unable to reach a verdict). Is it a sign of significant progress? Well…
American race relations are one of those minefields of discussion out there (like religion or politics, in general). What can we say? This essay, for example, discusses disparities in the human condition and perceptions thereof; the overwhelming majority of Whites believe that racism is no longer a problem in this country (including specific discussion of issues like educational opportunity, housing opportunity, treatment by law enforcement, etc.), while only a minority of African Americans feel that way… to this day.
Obviously, the issue is hopelessly politicized. We get some people who would probably never have even been permitted to attend law school but for the legacy of the Civil Rights Act and policies such as affirmative action, let alone find themselves on federal courts (yes, Justice Thomas and Judge Brown, I mean you) but who now feel it necessary to demonstrate that somehow they and they alone achieved everything in their lives by lifting themselves by their own bootstraps, of course, and believe that the continued existence of affirmative action will dilute their own “achievements” and hence, must be stopped. We have “civil rights leaders” like Jesse Jackson, who makes his living by being a racial shakedown specialist, or Al Sharpton, a demagogue who dabbles in politics and has helped assure defeat of Democratic candidates in everything from Mayor of New York to President of the United States. And we have the civil rights laws themselves, which, it should come as no surprise to anyone, are as subject to abuse in the hands of private litigants as any and every other law available to private litigants.
Alas, the troubling stats persist: the average African American earns well below
what the average White earns, even for the same job
, and we won’t talk about education, housing, or the fact that recent trends were showing that nearly half of Black males will spend a portion of their lives incarcerated or in juvenile detention at some point…
Forget good old “racial profiling” for this last one: some (well, I) argue that drug laws are, in essence, a means of state reimposition of involuntary servitude on a racial basis. Given that this ends up being their effect (let’s acknowledge that a Black male with, for example, the President’s reputed history of substance abuse would have unquestionably been incarcerated for some period of their life), one wonders how this could not have been the intent of such (asinine) laws (well, I do anyway). (Yes, this does mean I stand for the decriminalization of all currently illicit drugs– not making them generally available, mind you, just subject to the same controls as prescription narcotics, and not subject to outrageously draconian mandatory minimum sentences for abuse. But I digress…)
Anyway, despite what lots of White folks think, we have an awful lot of work to do in American race relations. I’m not going to say today was “a good start”: it’s, quite frankly, 41 years overdue, but there is no question that justice is better late than never. Maybe we can ponder the question of why so many African Americans (in particular) still believe racism is a serious problem, and maybe not be so damned dismissive of the question… Maybe Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Earl Chaney will not have given their lives in the service of some half-measure and incomplete project after all… overt Jim Crow laws replaced by more subtle, yet similarly effective and troubling means… I’d sure like to hope so…