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CHAPTER 9. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In no country but our own is the discreditable fact true that where murder and cruel shocking outrages are perpetrated by a dominant party in a narrow region of country, there is no power of punishment, save through the impractical instrumentality of those who have either committed or sympathized with the crime. . . . Unless our statesmen, State or National, create some jurisdiction of wider scope and which will authorize indictments and trial beyond the narrow limits a majority of whose citizens abet the crime to be punished, the Nation must still submit to the disgrace of yearly additions of mean and courage-wanting murders of the innocent and the helpless, without the slightest infliction of any legal penalty upon the offenders. . . . It has been our painful duty in repeated instances to charge juries that: the Federal court had no cognizance of offenses where crimes so cruel and shocking have been proved that the court, jury, and audience could scarcely refrain from tears of sympathy, and where the elegantly dressed, socially well connected, and shameless murderers, had, in the communities where they had shed innocent blood, not only confessed but boasted of their crime and who had either not been indicted at all, or, when tried, had been acquitted by juries, their coadjutors in crime, amid the acclamation of their co-conspirators. . . . It is believed by many of our best citizens that there should be here, as in every other government on earth, some power to bring such wicked men to justice, outside of, and uncontrolled by, the wills and hands which have united in their atrocities.
Emmons, J., Charge to the Grand Jury, Case No. 18,260, 30 Fed. Cas. 1005, 1006-07 (C.C.W.D. Tenn. 1875).
The assurance of personal security is a right of citizens in our society fundamental to the exercise of all other rights. The Constitution secures this right by requiring public officials to extend the equal protection of the laws to all persons within their jurisdiction. In particular, all persons are entitled to receive equal protection from the police, and even-handed investigation and prosecution of offenses committed against them, including nondiscriminatory selection of juries. They are also entitled to be free from harassing arrests or other discriminatory legal action. Officials who deny to any class of persons the protection of the laws or who use legal processes unjustifiably to harass or punish, violate the Federal Constitution and their oath to uphold it.
The Commission's investigation has disclosed that in some communities in the South, local officials have defied the Constitution and repudiated their oath by denying the protection of the laws to Negro citizens. In some instances, law enforcement officers have stood aside and permitted violence to be inflicted upon persons exercising rights guaranteed by Federal law. In others, prosecutors have failed to carry out their duties properly. In the few cases in which persons have been prosecuted for violence against Negroes, grand juries and petit juries—from which Negroes have been systematically excluded and which express, deeply rooted community attitudes—have failed to indict or convict.
The purpose and effect of violence and abuse of legal process has been to maintain and reinforce the traditional subservient status of Negroes by discouraging the exercise of the rights of citizenship. The occurrence of even a single incident of unpunished racial violence often serves to deter Negroes in a community from asserting their rights. In these circumstances racial violence injures not only the victim but the entire community.
The right to free expression in all its aspects is also a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Peaceful and orderly demonstrations to protest segregation and the denial of equal opportunity are modes of expression which the courts have held are protected from governmental interference. Yet, the Com
mission's investigation disclosed that local officials in a number of southern communities suppressed constitutionally protected public protests by arrests and prosecutions.
The Commission recognizes that law enforcement is primarily the responsibility of State and local officials. In some southern communities, where local citizens have insisted upon fair and effective law enforcement, violence has been averted and the integrity of the processes of law maintained. The number of these communities has increased as public officials and leading citizens have recognized the dangers that unchecked violence or corruption in the administration of justice pose to the community as a whole. In proposing remedies for communities where discrimination persists, the Commission has been guided by the principle that the best solution would be the assumption of responsibility by local officials. Accordingly, it has suggested reforms which would strengthen local law enforcement and has recommended Federal assistance to local law enforcement agencies.
But it is clear that in some communities wrongs have been committed with the active or passive support of local officials and will not readily yield to self-reform. That the number of such communities is diminishing does not make this less a matter of national concern. The Government of the United States has both the authority and the responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens and to uphold the rule of law. Accordingly, the Commission is recommending additional congressional and Executive action.
These recommendations do not entail major changes in the present distribution of Federal and State responsibility for local law enforcement. Our proposals, particularly those dealing with Executive action, are designed to utilize existing Federal instrumentalities of justice more fully in an effort to deter racial violence. Believing as we do that equal justice can ultimately be secured only by the actions of citizens in the communities where it is now being denied, the Commission has not accepted more far-reaching proposals that our judicial system be changed to permit cases to be tried by jurors and judges far removed from the scene of the crime. We emphasize, however, the importance of recommendations for proceedings to eliminate discrimination in selecting juries which we made in our 1961 Justice Report. The removal of all forms of racial discrimination from the courtroom is essential to the achievement of equal justice.
Whether it will be necessary to utilize fully the remedies proposed in this report or to adopt others more drastic depends on the conduct of local officials themselves. The Federal Government must act when the constitutional rights of some of its citizens are being denied. The need for action will abate when local officials assume their sworn obligation to support the Constitution of the United States.
FINDINGS 1. During 1963 and 1964 severe outbreaks of racial violence occurred in several communities in Mississippi. In many cases, law enforcement officials failed in their duty to prevent or punish acts of racial violence. Specifically, law enforcement officers:
(a) failed to protect Negroes from preventable acts of violence; (b) failed to conduct adequate investigations of incidents of
violence; (c) arrested or abused victims of violence who reported inci
dents to them; (d) allied themselves or publicly expressed sympathy with
extremist racist groups; and (e) failed to prosecute adequately cases in which arrests were
made. 2. These failures were primarily the result of hostility to the assertion of rights by Negroes or to the civil rights movementhostility which was also evidenced in the frequent arrest of civil rights workers, both white and Negro, for petty offenses or on unsubstantiated charges.
3. Mississippi's law enforcement institutions have structural weaknesses which have contributed to the failure to prevent, solve, or prosecute crimes of racial violence. The responsibility for the