The NAACP is considering a resolution calling on the Justice Department to step up cold case investigations of unsolved African American homicides, such as the brutal serial murders of 9 women and one man in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Local NAACP president Andre Knight, in a special essay for The Crime Report, explains the background.
More than 100 unsolved murder cases are currently under review through the Civil Rights-era Cold Case Initiative, a 2007 partnership between the FBI, civil rights groups, and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
A large number of the victims were African American. According to the FBI, five states–Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana–registered the highest rates for unsolved African American homicides.
This alarming situation was the basis for a special resolution passed in July at the 101st annual convention of the NAACP in Kansas City, Missouri. An amended version of that resolution, which now awaits ratification by the NAACP's national board, called on the Department of Justice to “establish a national standard for the effective and efficient investigation of murder victims and develop an appropriate protocol for law enforcement personnel to receive training on appropriate interacting and interviewing (with the families) of victims of color.”
Will it make a difference? I hope it will.
As a longtime NAACP member and as NAACP Branch President in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, I've had firsthand knowledge of one of the most tragic series of unsolved murders. Over the past decade, 10 African Americans from my area were brutally murdered, their bodies dumped in deserted stretches of forests, fields, swamps, and riverbeds. It was reasonable to assume they were the victims of a serial killer or killers; but from the outset local law enforcement and local media paid little attention.
Why? It was probably not a coincidence that the victims were considered outcasts whose lifestyles got them in trouble. Some were prostitutes and/or substance abusers. Nine of the victims were women. Only recently, in fact, has a full investigation gotten underway.
By proposing this resolution, we hope that the families of future murder victims will not have to experience what our Rocky Mount families went through.
Taking a Stand
Taking a stand on how crimes against women whose lifestyles do not conform to community standards are investigated might one day make a difference in how cases like the ones in Rocky Mount are handled.
Maybe one day, the national media will be motivated to look beyond demographics and circumstance and realize that all life is important and should be respected, valued and protected.
And maybe one day, someone will say that it is horrendous and inhumane to not be moved or have less care about these Rocky Mount women and man who were brutalized, and murdered.
If justice in our country is only guaranteed to the wealthy, the prominent and those who are not struggling with addictions or mental illness, then are we really a just nation? Or has justice simply become a good notion that is available to some folks all of the time, most folks some of the time, and those folks none of the time?
In my opinion, this resolution gives our country an opportunity to cleanse ourselves of our stained past. If law enforcement agencies and local judicial officials will hear the intent and spirit of the resolution to be as thorough as possible in investigating, charging and trying the murderer or murderers who perpetrated these crimes, they will move closer to fulfilling the dreams of civil rights leaders of past generations.
If local and national media give full and unbiased coverage to the lives and situations of people trapped in poor choices and poisonous addictions, perhaps our society will be moved to place more value and investment in education, outreach and alternatives.
We hope that once the resolution becomes part of the official policy of the Association, local, state, and federal authorities will pay more attention to policies and law such as The Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which calls for providing funds for victims of domestic crimes and makes provisions for civil rights remedies for women who are sex crime victims. Through the adoption of this policy and with sustained advocacy, we can provide all victims and their families a level playing field for peace and justice.
And perhaps, just as importantly, the family members of the ten Rocky Mount victims might be one step closer to peace.
Andre Knight is a member of the Rocky Mount, NC City Council and president of the Rocky Mount branch of the NAACP.
Photo by Photogram via Flickr.