In “60 Years Later, Echoes of Emmett Till’s Killing” Mr. Blow says a savage beating of a 14-year-old Chicago boy is a sadly familiar story to today’s young black people. Prof. Krugman, in “A Heckuva Job,” says that as some Republican candidates have shown, it’s not too difficult to fool many of the people for quite a long time. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Friday was the 60th anniversary of the savage killing of Emmett Till.
Till was a black 14-year-old Chicago boy who was visiting his great-uncle in Mississippi during the summer of 1955.
It is said that the boy said something to, and whistled at, a white woman.
This was a line not crossed in those parts in this country. As I wrote in June when Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a Charleston, S.C., church after complaining that black people are “raping our women”:
“There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and so many black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity.”
That thread seems altered but unbroken from Emmett’s time to ours.
In the wee hours of the night, two white men kidnapped Emmett from his family’s home, mercilessly beat him, took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head, then tied the metal fan of a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and pushed him in.
When Emmett’s body was fished from the river three days later, it had already begun to decompose. He was unrecognizable. His body was identified because he was wearing a ring that had belonged to his father.
His body was sent back to Chicago for burial. His mother, Mamie, collapsed at the sight of the coffin, just two weeks after she kissed her son goodbye.
His mother insisted that the coffin be opened so that she could see her son.As she recalled: “I saw that his tongue was choked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek. I noticed that his nose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed was a bullet hole, and I could look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered: Was it necessary to shoot him?”
His mother insisted on an open coffin so that everyone could see what had been done to her baby.
According to Devery S. Anderson’s book about Emmett published this month, the night of the wake alone, “between 10,000 and 50,000 people” filed past Emmett’s glass-covered coffin to gaze at what was left of his face.
A little over two weeks after Emmett was buried, the men who killed him were acquitted, after only 67 minutes of jury deliberations. One juror is said to have told a reporter that the deliberations wouldn’t have taken that long if the jurors hadn’t taken a break to drink a pop.
After the acquittal the killers kissed their wives, lit cigars and posed for pictures.
And unfortunately, Emmett’s case was far from the only one. As the law professors Margaret A. Burnham and Margaret M. Russell wrote in The Times last week, there are hundreds of “disappeared” black people in this country “who were victims of racial violence from 1930 to 1960.”
But Emmett became the most pivotal. His death was immeasurable in its effect on young black people at the time. It activated and mobilized them. That is not so dissimilar from today.
Jesse Jackson is credited with calling Emmett’s murder the “Big Bang” of the civil rights movement.
But in an interview published earlier this month, a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Benson, co-author of the 2003 book “Death of Innocence” about the case, made a more direct comparison:
“Before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, there was Emmett Till. This was the first ‘Black Lives Matter’ story. It is no wonder, then, that each time we read about another young unarmed black male being shot down in the street — unjustly — by an authority figure, there is the mention of Emmett’s name. What we come to see with the loss of Emmett is just what racism has cost us in this country. What it costs us still, in the loss of so many bright, gifted kids. Partly through untimely deaths. But also in the limited opportunities many have to excel, because of mass incarceration or even unwarranted tracking in schools.”
“When we begin to see the Emmett Till story in this context, we realize that we all lose something to racism. And we see that we all have something to gain by overcoming the obstacles to full participation that still exist. So, Emmett Till is a vital American story.”
Yes, Emmett’s story is a vital American story, and it feels like an all-too-present one as we see this cycle repeating itself: young lives are lost, the body itself is desecrated or neglected, killers are acquitted or not even brought to trial, and the effects of the feelings of terror and injustice galvanize a generation of young people who have taken as much as they plan to take.
Now here’s Prof. Krugman:
There are many things we should remember about the events of late August and early September 2005, and the political fallout shouldn’t be near the top of the list. Still, the disaster in New Orleans did the Bush administration a great deal of damage — and conservatives have never stopped trying to take their revenge. Every time something has gone wrong on President Obama’s watch, critics have been quick to declare the event “Obama’s Katrina.” How many Katrinas has Mr. Obama had so far? By one count, 23.
Somehow, however, these putative Katrinas never end up having the political impact of the lethal debacle that unfolded a decade ago. Partly that’s because many of the alleged disasters weren’t disasters after all. For example, the teething problems of Healthcare.gov were embarrassing, but they were eventually resolved — without anyone dying in the process — and at this point Obamacare looks like a huge success.
Beyond that, Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.
What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.
You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.
Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency, in part because for a while his tough-guy act played so well with the people of New Jersey. But he has, in fact, been a terrible governor, who has presided over repeated credit downgrades, and who compromised New Jersey’s economic future by killing a much-needed rail tunnel project.
Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.
Or consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as “the best governor in America,” when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush’s inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.
And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?
I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.
True, some liberals were starry-eyed about Mr. Obama way back when, but the glitter faded fast, and what was left was a competent leader with some big achievements under his belt – most notably, an unprecedented drop in the number of Americans without health insurance. And Hillary Clinton is the subject of a sort of anti-cult of personality, whose most ordinary actions are portrayed as nefarious. (No, the email thing doesn’t rise to the level of a “scandal.”)
Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.
Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?
But Mr. Trump isn’t alone in talking policy nonsense. Trying to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants would be a logistical and human rights nightmare, but might conceivably be possible; doubling America’s rate of economic growth, as Jeb Bush has promised he would, is a complete fantasy.
And while Mr. Trump doesn’t exude presidential dignity, he’s seeking the nomination of a party that once considered it a great idea to put George W. Bush in a flight suit and have him land on an aircraft carrier.
The point is that those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.