George Floyd: What are we doing in Delaware?

June 9, 2020

“Emmett Till is dead. I don’t know why he just can’t stay dead.” Roy Bryant, one of the men who viciously murdered 14-year-old Till in 1955, mouthed those words years after Bryant and his accomplice were acquitted - it took the all-white, all-male jury a mere 67 minutes. It is said that the dead live on the lips of the living. But for that afterlife, Bryant’s death wish might have been realized.

We respect the dead by remembering them and the evil that killed them. That was the message Dr. King drove home when, in September 1968, he delivered a eulogy at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Four girls were killed there when the church was bombed. Those who died, King proclaimed, speak to us from their graves. “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” That message sorely needs to be heeded today. Failure to do so will only encourage more prejudice, more knees on the necks of the racially oppressed.

Justice begins at home. To that end, now is the time to take a long and hard look at racial injustice in our own state. Everything must be on the table: from police brutality to high incarceration rates for men of color, and from legal doctrines that effectively permit police wrongdoing to a lack of transparency concerning police misconduct. There is also the matter of representation of people of color in our state judiciary and in the Delaware Department of Justice.

True, this will not be easy. Then again, complacency has its tragic costs. Such a public inquiry should be neither vindictive nor counterfeit; it should honestly attempt to be fair to those who have endured the legacy of white supremacy. To do so, their stories must first be heard. And yes, those in law enforcement should speak their minds as well if tomorrow is to differ from today.  

First discussion, then deliberation, then proposals, then leadership, and then real reforms. Let Delaware lead the way; let it be an example of what can be done when people of conscience join together to keep the memory of Emmett Till alive, and that of George Floyd, too.

So when and how do we start?  

Ronald K.L. Collins
Rodney Smolla
dean, Delaware Law School Widener University


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