Weekend Series on Crime History: LBJ Talks to J. Edgar Hoover About Mississippi Civil Rights Workers’ Murders in 1964
As violence against black people continued after signing the Civil Rights Act in July 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson turned to the FBI for help.
The New York Times reports that Johnson urged then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to open the first office dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Americans.
The FBI on Thursday celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening.
Officials and civil rights leaders said a lot has changed in the bureau since then.
“We saw the F.B.I. only as an institution set to keep people of color down,” said Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi civil rights leader killed the summer before the office opened said. “One that was not a friend, but one that was a foe. And I stand before you today saying that I am proud to say I see the F.B.I. as playing the role they did, and finally in my mind, and my heart reaching the point where I can say, friend.”
Six members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were found guilty Tuesday of attempting to interfere with a civil rights investigation into the county jails, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies face up to 15 years in prison after the jury found them guilty of trying to hide an informant from FBI agents during an investigation into a jail scandal.
Attorneys for the defendants said they were only following orders from superiors.
One of the jurors interviewed after the trial said he believed the sheriff’s officials were following commands but crossed the line.
“At a certain point there are things you can’t do,” said the juror, a truck driver who lives in the Crenshaw district but would identify himself only as Ron.
The conviction is a big victory for prosecutors as they delve deeper into the jail investigation.
Daniel McMullen, the first black special agent in charge of Jackson’s FBI office, has announced his retirement.
“As a person with an interest in history itself and the history of the civil rights movement and an understanding of where Mississippi was in the history of civil rights, I find it very interesting now that I am where I am,” he said recently, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
The Jackson field office, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in July, was reestablished following the deaths of civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
“From being a student of history, reading about these historical figures, and then to meet them,” McMullen said. “Charles and Myrlie Evers, Gov. William Winter, James Meredith. Some of the Freedom Riders I’ve met — there are so many folks that lived it, and to hear what the world was like back then, and the multiple narratives about the role of the FBI. Where you stand on the issues definitely depends on where you sit.”
But McMullen, who also worked in New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, went far beyond civil rights issues. One case involved the kidnapping of Alexandria and Kyliyah Bain in 2012 and tracking down the man responsible – Adam Mayes.
“He was one of our top 10 fugitives,” McMullen said. “That provided a tremendous example of how law enforcement can cooperate in response to a critical incident.”
Correction: In an earlier version, Daniel McMullen’s name was spelled incorrectly.
What turned into the largest mass arrests of L.A. County sheriff’s officials in decades began with a single letter from a jail inmate, the Los Angeles Times reports.
FBI Agent Leah Marx testified that the probe began in June 2010 when a county jail inmate detailed a pattern of violence by deputies.
The letter prompted a joint civil rights and public corruption investigation after more inmates began describing excessive force, Marx said on the stand for one of the deputy’s trials.
One inmate told the FBI that deputies were offering contraband for a bribe.
New FBI agents are already required to tour the Holocaust Museum.
FBI Director James Comey is adding another required visit in Washington D.C. – the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the USA Today reports.
“I think it will serve as a different kind of reminder — one more personal to the bureau — of the need for fidelity to the rule of law and the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability,” Comey said.
The move marks quite a departure from the bureau’s attitude toward King prior to his 1968 assassination.
The FBI conducted secret surveillance of the civil rights figure in an effort to discredit him.
The requirement to visit the Holocaust Museum has been in place since the late 1990s.
Comey said the MLK memorial tour will remind agents that “we will be judged not only on whether we succeed in defeating crime and terrorism, (but) on whether we do so while safeguarding the liberties for which we are fighting.”
Not everyone is satisfied with how the FBI handled Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen man who had ties to one of the Boston Marathon bombing shooters and was killed by an agent during an alleged confession.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that state prosecutor Jeffrey Ashton and others, including civil rights groups, have some qualms with the FBI’s handling of the affair.
Boston Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis said the 161-page report on Todashev’s death was a “whitewash,” adding, “Once again the FBI waltzes away from a mess. No harm, no foul.”
The account of Todashev’s death was finally released this week after a 10-month hold during which the FBI blocked access to the medical examiner’s report, CSM reported.
“The central question of whether the killing of Mr. Todashev was justified remains frustratingly unanswered,” Baylor Johnson, an American Civil Liberties Union spokesman, told NPR after the report was released Tuesday.
Crossing into the U.S. illegally is not a capital crime. Yet since 2010, some 20 people have been fatally shot by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The head of the Border Patrol has taken the correct and necessary step of making clear to his agents that using deadly force should be a last resort. On Friday, Chief Michael Fisher ordered agents not to step in front of moving vehicles in order to open fire, and not to shoot at fleeing vehicles. He also directed agents to seek cover or move away from rock throwers, and not to shoot unless in imminent danger.
No doubt, agents should be able to protect themselves or the public. But it’s also clear that more intensive training is needed to make sure this reasonable policy is followed.
The new rules bring the patrol more in line with the nation’s major law enforcement departments. The changes come after scrutiny from civil rights groups and the Mexican government, and follow eye-opening reports a week earlier by Tim Johnson of McClatchy’s foreign staff and by the Los Angeles Times.
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