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Chris Giovacchini

Retrospective: Emmett Till, and Other Black Lives

’Twas Money, Mississippi, 1955. Emmett, 14, from Chicago, was on summer vacation, visiting his great uncle Mose, a preacher. After picking cotton with other young folks late one afternoon, as kids do, they went to the little town store for soda and candy.

            That same activity, frequenting a convenience store, would prove fatal for 17-year-old  Trayvon Martin in 2012. He was shot by a member of the community watch in Sanford, Florida.   

The shooter was acquitted.

Black history repeats itself.

Being uppity wasn’t socially correct for a young black boy. A northerner, Emmett knew no better. So, on a dare, he took a good look, and whistled at the pretty young white woman who clerked at the store. The versions between the cotton pickers and the white lady varied. But the whistle was not in question. Four days later, the young white lady’s husband and his half brother, both veterans, searched out young Emmett,  “…to take him up the road and just whip him…,” they said.

            In 2014, Eric Garner, a big man, was choked to death by police for selling loose cigarettes. 

            Eleven times he said, ”I can’t breathe” while several officers held him down, on a New York

            City sidewalk.

 No one was charged.

Black history repeats itself.

Emmett’s lesson proved to be more severe than “just a whipping.” They smashed his face and skull, shot him in the head, tied a heavy metal fan to him with barbed wire and threw him into the Tallahatchie river, where he later washed up on a snag. Evidently he was disrespectful while being beaten, didn’t say, “Yes sir and no sir…” His abductors were acquitted by an all white jury. They later admitted to the crime, when protected by double jeopardy.

            In 2014, 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot dead in a Cleveland playground, playing with  a toy gun.

 The officers were  acquitted.

 Black history repeats itself

Emmett’s mamma Mamie came to identify her son, and demanded pictures be taken of Emmett’s

disfigured and mutilated body. Emmett’s identification was greatly aided by the fact that he was wearing a family ring.        

            In 2015, Sandra Bland wouldn’t put out her cigarette, during a routine Texas traffic stop.

            She died in jail after a few days, under mysterious and questionable circumstances.

 She allegedly hung herself.          

Black history repeats itself.

In 2018 Emmett Till’s alleged “Cold Case” was re-opened. In the 2017 book by Timothy B. Tyson,  “The Blood of Emmett Till,” Carolyn Donham Bryant, now 84, is quoted as saying during a 2008 interview that she wasn’t truthful when she testified that the black teen, grabbed her, and made sexual advances at the Money, Mississippi store six decades ago. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said. A memorial placard was placed on the Tallahatchie river where Emmett’s body was found. It is riddled with bullet holes.

            Black history repeats itself.

            In 2018, Stephon Clark was suspected of breaking car windows one night, in Sacramento, California. Police officers cornered him in his Grandma’s backyard, where he lived. As he laid    prone on the ground, 20 shots were fired. He was hit 8 times, three in the back. He was a little  high, but had only a cell phone in his possession. He was left there for critical minutes suspected  of “playing possum.” He was pronounced dead on the scene.

 It is undetermined if the shooting was appropriate.

Weeks of protests followed.

Black history repeats itself.

            In  February of 2020 unarmed Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog In Satilla Shores, Georgia where “open carry” and “stand-your-ground” laws are in affect. Lying in wait along his path  were a father with a .357 magnum, and son with a sawed off shotgun, and a third collaborator     bringing up the rear, who filmed the incident. Trying to avoid the trap, Ahmaud jogged away,  only having to double back when boxed in by the third party. He then had to face shotgun brandishing.  Travis McMichael, with his father acting as backup. A scuffle ensued, between Travis and Ahmaud,  in which the shotgun was discharged three times at point blank range. Ahmaud bled out on the scene.                     

 No one was charged for two months until the video came to light in May, and went viral. The McMichaels were subsequently charged with felony murder and  aggravated assault. Their accomplice was also charged.

 Hundreds of protesters demanded justice.

 Black history repeats itself.

            In May 2020 George Floyd knowingly or unknowingly used a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Police showed up immediately afterwards and detained Floyd who was sitting in his car outside the store. He was hand- cuffed and seemed complaisant. More police showed up. As he was being put in the police car, he complained of being short of breath and collapsed alongside the car, where he was held face down by three officers. One of whom placed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight   minutes. Mr. Floyd was coherent for a time, still complaining he couldn’t breathe. Mr. Floyd then appears to wet himself while held down and ceases to speak or move. Viral video shot by a bystander captures the entire tragic series of events. Mr. Floyd was DOA at the county medical center. The video caused ongoing national outrage and protest that has been echoed worldwide.

All four officers were fired. They have been charged with second degree murder, and aiding and abetting.

Black History is ongoing.


*Author’s Note: I started this piece a couple of years ago. Recently I came back to it to edit, and update it, adding the Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd incidents. The events recounted here, by no means, represent a comprehensive list. They represent only a few that have come to my attention in recent years. Since my last revision, a number of names and incidents can be added. Sadly, this is an ongoing tragedy.

©Chris Giovacchini 2020

























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