I did a double-take when I read this on CNN. It’s been a while since I read Fire in a Canebreak, an account of the last mass lynching in the United States, which took place in my home state in 1946. Apparently, there’s new evidence in the case.
State and federal investigators said Tuesday that they spent the past two days gathering evidence in the last documented mass lynching in the United States: a grisly slaying of four people that has remained unsolved for more than six decades.
In a written statement, the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said they collected several items on a property in rural Walton County, Georgia, that were taken in for further investigation.
On July 25, 1946, two black sharecropper couples were shot hundreds of times and the unborn baby of one of the women cut out with a knife at the Moore’s Ford Bridge. One of the men had been accused of stabbing a white man 11 days earlier and was bailed out of jail by a former Ku Klux Klan member and known bootlegger who drove him, his wife, her brother and his wife to the bridge.
The FBI statement said investigators were following up on information recently received in the case, one of several the agency has revived in an effort to close decades-old cases from the civil rights era and before.
“The FBI and GBI had gotten some information that we couldn’t ignore with respect to this case,” GBI spokesman John Bankhead said.
Of course, there are people who’d rather they did ignore it.
Investigations like the one into the Georgia slayings may have gotten another boost in the past week. A U.S. senator agreed to unlock a bill that would create a “cold case unit” at the U.S. Justice Department.
The legislation is sponsored by Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and passed 422-2 in the House. But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, used an obscure Senate rule to freeze the bill, just as he routinely does on efforts that require government spending.
The plan would authorize $10 million a year for the next 10 years for the Justice Department to create a unit prosecuting pre-1970 civil rights cases. Another $3.5 million would go annually toward the department’s cooperative efforts with local law enforcement.
But last week, a spokesman said Coburn would lift the hold in exchange for a vote on cutting Justice Department spending in other areas.
Wow. That’s, uh, mighty whi… Nah. I better not say that.
Still, that Coburn wants to cut Justice Department spending in some areas. Which areas? I’m not sure. But I read in the Post yesterday that there’s a backlog of fraud cases piling up at Justice.
More than 900 cases alleging that government contractors and drugmakers have defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars are languishing in a backlog that has built up over the past decade because the Justice Department cannot keep pace with the surge in charges brought by whistle-blowers, according to lawyers involved in the disputes.
The issue is drawing renewed interest among lawmakers and nonprofit groups because many of the cases involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising health-care payouts, and privatization of government functions — all of which offer rich new opportunities to swindle taxpayers.
Since 2001, 300 to 400 civil cases have been filed each year by employees charging that their companies defrauded the government. But under the cumbersome process that governs these cases, Justice Department lawyers must review them under seal, and whistle-blowers routinely wait 14 months or longer just to learn whether the department will get involved. The government rejects about three-quarters of the cases it receives, saying that the vast majority have little merit.
Disputes can stay buried for years more while the government investigates the allegations.
Taxpayers are being swindled, and the people at the Justice Department can’t keep up with it? Doesn’t that sound like maybe the Justice Department needs more funding, not less. After all, if there are 300 to 400 cases of fraud, if even 1% of them — 4 out of 400 — turn out to be valid, either of them might uncover millions of federal dollars swindled due to fraud, as well as whose responsible.
Wouldn’t it be worth it? At least to make sure they didn’t get away with it?
That’s what’s at stake in the Georgia case; making sure those responsible don’t get away with it, simply because we don’t think it’s worthwhile to look, and not worth our time or money. It’s cheaper to deny justice, or at least delay justice in one case, and leave open the possibility of denying it in many, many more.