June 20, 2007
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia:  Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 923, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007. This important bill enjoys wide bipartisan and bicameral support. The bill will assist Federal, State, and local governments with the important task of solving unsolved civil rights-era crimes.

   Mr. Speaker, at the recent joint hearing held by the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, we heard from six excellent witnesses. The most moving of these were Mrs. Myrlie Evers Williams and Mrs. Rita Schwerner Bender, both of whose husbands the Ku Klux Klan assassinated because of the import civil rights work they were doing. The Klan assassinated Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963, and Michael Schwerner on June 21, 1964. The gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Lewis) has asked us to take up this act now because it coincides with the anniversary of these two important events. In both cases it took government authorities decades before the killers were convicted of these brutal murders.

   Unfortunately, these cases were not isolated incidents. There are dozens of cases, probably hundreds, like these, some of which have never been acknowledged, investigated, or prosecuted. Indeed, we don't even know how many people were murdered during the 1950s and 1960s, because retaliation was so common that many families did not dare report that their loved ones had been murdered. The FBI has identified more than 100 cold cases that should be investigated and, when possible, charges should be brought against the accused killers.

   I support H.R. 923 because it will hold the Department of Justice and the FBI accountable for following through on these investigations and prosecutions. The act requires the Attorney General to appoint a specific high-ranking employee in each agency to be accountable for this work. The act also requires the Department of Justice to report to Congress annually on the progress it has made towards solving these cases, and the first such report is due 6 months after the bill becomes law.

   Lastly, the bill authorizes funds to the Department of Justice, the FBI, and when appropriate, State and local enforcement agencies, to investigate and prosecute these cases.

   The FBI has already made a start in investigating these cases when it kicked off the Cold Cases Campaign in February of 2006 and expanded on this campaign in February 2007 when it solicited assistance from major civil rights organizations. However, there is still much more work that needs to be done, and Federal resources are necessary to do it. H.R. 923 will provide these necessary resources.

   I urge my colleagues to support this important bill.