D Kevin McNeirNational

Bulletproof Sign Needed to Protect New Emmett Till Memorial

But Lacking Similar Shields, Gunfire Overcomes the Innocent from Calif. to Philly

The heinous murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, tortured by a tandem of whites in Mississippi in 1955, remains the preeminent example cited by Black parents in efforts to safeguard their children from falling prey to similar situations of racially motivated hatred and violence.

Yet despite its historical significance for all Americans, especially Blacks, more than 50 years passed before a series of markers would be erected throughout the Delta in 2007, including the very spot along the Tallahatchie River where fishermen discovered Emmett’s mutilated body still tied to a cotton-gin fan, honoring both Emmett’s short life and his death — the spark which many believe ignited the Civil Rights Movement.

However, with their anger unabated, thieves destroyed the signs less than one year later — riddling subsequent replacements with rounds of bullets time and time again — until those leading the memorial resolved to erect a bulletproof marker earlier this year in June. Amazingly, hatemongers would attack the sign once again, July 26 — this time their efforts failed.

“To drive up and see it like that, I was sad,” Patrick Weems, a founder of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Miss., said to a New York Times reporter. “When we finally replaced it, it was an amazing feeling that this sign that had been obliterated was finally restored.”

Weems attributes the decades of reticence and inactivity following Emmett’s death to the prevailing attitude among those in the region to forget the crime had ever occurred. But lesser voices could not be silenced, including Simeon Wright, the youth’s cousin who, at the age of 12, witnessed the kidnapping from the bedroom the two had shared.

Wright, who spoke several times with this reporter over the years, died in 2018. However, his wife, Annie, attended a ceremony unveiling the current sign on June 21.

And while no one has been charged with the latest act of vandalism, Weems says he’d rather emphasize the way people have come together in support of the preservation of Emmett’s story as shared in the markers.

“This is a story about a local community — Black and white, Republican and Democrat, plantation owners and former sharecroppers — that came together and took responsibility,” he told reporters, adding that over the years, the signs have been stolen, marked with Klan graffiti, tossed in the river and showered with acid.

Today a bulletproof metal marker, close to 600 pounds, stands in honor of the slain teen and Weems says, “We have moral responsibility to make sure that the sign keeps getting put back up.”

Gunman’s Bigotry Attributed to Shooting Spree at Festival

Authorities reported on Monday that Santino William Legan, 19, who killed three including a 6- and 13-year-old boy and girl, respectively, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday, July 28, had just four days earlier created an Instagram account criticizing the event, “paving more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos [those of mixed descent, commonly white and Hispanic of white and Native American], highly-visible participants at the popular northern California food festival, also saying that he had a plan in store for them.

Legan, wielding a semi-automatic rifle and wearing tactical gear, also injured over a dozen others before three police officers already on the scene, killed him less than one minute after he began shooting into the crowd of thousands as they ran for safety.

It has also been alleged that he had an affinity for a white supremacist text, “Might is Right,” published in the late 1800s, which advocates anarchy, denounces Christianity and asserts that whites must rule over people of color.

In addition, authorities confirm that Legan had legally purchased the weapon used in the shooting three weeks earlier in Nevada.

Victims, 12 at the most recent count, ranged in age from 12 to 69 years old — the third fatality being a man in his 20s. Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said the swift response of officers on duty at the festival, which did not have security cameras on the premises, preempted what could have been a far worse outcome for the annual outing in the town located 30 miles south of San Jose.

Despite the recent posting, police say they still are unsure of the shooter’s motive.

“It seems this was a random act but we’ve got a long way to go before we can determine what his motivations were,” Smithee said during a press conference on Monday.

Meanwhile, the FBI continues to seek further knowledge that would unveil Legan’s ideological leanings, affiliations and motivations.

Shootings on Rise in City of Brotherly Love

And while officials have yet to rule out racism as a cause, Philadelphia citizens have been plagued by a recent onslaught of shootings including back-to-back weekends of unprecedented violence.

Both occurring in June, the first weekend yielded a total of 28 shooting victims, five of whom died, while the second weekend ended with 11 wounded, all males, who had been attending a street party held to support recently-unveiled anti-violence measures.

The City of Brotherly Love has recorded 631 shooting victims in the city since the start of the year, an increase of 6 percent over the same period last year, according to police statistics.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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