Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Killen guilty of killings

Hard on the heels of the Senate's apology for its inaction on the once-widespread practice of lynching African-Americans, a Mississippi jury has at last convicted the ringleader of crimes against humanity guilty of killing three civil rights workers in 1964. That the verdict was manslaughter and not murder has evoked a mixture of reactions among even family members of the three martyred men.

Ben Chaney, brother of James Chaney--the one African-American among the three--said that the verdict indicated things were changing in Mississippi, and that he had hope. He also poignantly conveyed the feeling of this 82-year-old mother that the verdict indicated acknowledgment that her son's life "had value..."

On the other hand, Rita Bender, the widow of Michael Schwerner, was having none of it, as quoted in today's New York Times:

"The fact that some members of this jury could have sat through that testimony, indeed could have lived here all these years and could not bring themselves to acknowledge that these were murders, that they were committed with malice, indicates that there are still people unfortunately among you who choose to look aside, who choose to not see the truth," Ms. Bender, who was married to Mr. Schwerner, said after the trial.

The verdict in the Mississippi trial seems of a piece with the Senate's action last week in its cowardly voice vote on a resolution issuing a long-overdue apology for its inaction, for nearly a century, against the then-regular practice of lynching.

Progress is indicated by the fact of the apology, just as it is in Mississippi manslaughter verdict. But both fall short of true justice.

Is partial justice justice at all?

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