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Arise. Arise Medgar Evers

a real trial

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 02, 1994.

One of the most revolting memories from the 1960's is that of a photograph of the first Medgar Evers jury. Evers, you may recall, was a brave and responsible soul who fought hard for reasonable and, clearly seen now, responsible progress on the Civil Rights Front.

At the time of his death, he was working to allow blacks to be able to be school crossing guards in his home in Mississippi. Oh, also he thought it would be all right for black people to be able to try on clothing in clothing stores, technically integrated, just like white people did. The extreme theory here was since whites allowed blacks to wash and iron white people's clothes, white's seemingly were not afraid of cooties and what was the problem? Well, fear and stupidity, but Evers was far too polite and smart to say so.

It is often said that the founders of the United States were the greatest coincidental assemblage of responsibility and brilliance ever to grace a political landscape. Surely the same can be said of the African American civil rights leaders who blessed the United States with their presence in the early 1960's. Revisionism has touted their womanizing and other supposed failures, but given the power they exerted among their constituents it is difficult to imagine a more responsible, savvy, and courageous bunch of people. Medgar Evers was one. His heroic and overdue attempts to integrate his nation that had promised him equal rights fade in memory because they seem so pedestrian and so, well, silly. It is hard for people today to imagine children were lynched for drinking from the wrong water fountain, looking at a white woman, trying to improve the lot of his family and expose the failures of the neighbor whites. Evers lived in such a land, and he was shot to death by a fertilizer salesman named Byron De La Beckwith as he carried some T-shirts decrying Jim Crow laws from his car to his house. In the back, in front of wife and children, he was killed. It was 1963.

The photograph of the Evers jury, one of two that "couldn't reach a verdict" - the euphemism for not about to convict a white man for killing a black - showed smirking, fat, totally unlikable white bigots from central casting giggling as the judge read the verdict. Like many timely media moments - a little boy covered with blood sitting on railroad tracks in China, a little black girl being guarded by federal agents trying to attend first grade, an ABC reporter being shot in the back as he lay on the ground - that photo of the Evers jury solidified a hitherto amorphous feeling of unease in the American psyche to one of genuine rage, embarrassment, and desirous of revenge. It helped down the line, but that feeling never motivated further action for the family and memory of Medgar Evers. Until now, thirty years later.

Much is made of the new evidence, mostly people who acknowledge that Beckwith not only admitted but bragged about the murder, but there was evidence enough back then. Its pretty overpowering now, but the defendant is 73, deaf, and gnome-like.

Yet, few people on death row deserve capital punishment at the hands of government more than this incredible viper, this annoying coward . That he has been allowed to not only escape punishment for thirty years, but gain a sort of fame for foiling the hangman, hardly disqualifies him from the chair today. Let me give an example. "Killing that nigger gave me no more inner discomfort than our wives endure when they give birth to our children." That's a quote from this intellectual swamp at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, appropriately bugged by the authorities. If you ever wonder why violations of the double jeopardy elements of the constitution are allowed by current civil rights laws, the Evers case is a prime example.

This case is not much different in type from the one in Israel recently in which John Demeanuck was found innocent of being Ivan the Terrible. The "not guilty" verdict in that trial, an incredibly gutsy verdict, was based solidly on the evidence and with no bowing to media hysteria and public pressure. Israel's judicial system elevated itself by that verdict.

In the Beckwith case, a crime way in the past can now also have a verdict based solely on the evidence if thirty years late. If any man deserves to die in pain, its Mr. Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman who still thinks blacks are inferior. Based solely on the evidence, Beckwith is not qualified to fold laundry over Ever's garage. Actually, over Al Sharpton's garage. And thus, it would be nice if an American court could rise a little and forget claims of forgive and forget, suggestions that Beckwith is too old, or pleas of clemency.

This man deserves it, big time. And I personally would love to see that jury reassembled and gathered together in one room to view the execution. And if there is a hint of fear in their faces, I would hope the cameras catch it. It would make a nice companion piece on the mantle to the one from thirty years ago.