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Tag: civil rights

Documentary Examines Civil Rights Photographer Who Doubled As FBI Informant

An iconic photo taken by Ernest Withers. Photo/Stanford edu

By Steve Neavling

A new documentary examines the life and works of Ernest Withers, a popular civil rights photographer who turned out to be an FBI informant. 

The Picture Taker explores the complicated question of whether Withers was a friend or foe of the civil rights movement.

Ernest Withers won over the trust of civil rights leaders, capturing some of the most iconic images of the civil rights era.

He snapped some of the storied photos from the time – Martin Luther King Jr. riding on one of the first integrated buses in Montgomery, the Little Rock school integration showdown and the dramatic moment in a Mississippi court room when Emmett Till’s great uncle pointed an accusing finger at the abductor of his great-nephew.

His presence was so ubiquitous and his photos so powerful that he won the trust of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, who considered Withers a friend.

Withers’ double life was exposed in 2010 by dogged Memphis reporter Marc Perrusquia, who exposed the photographer’s double life in the pages of the Commercial Appeal. But the story raised more questions than it answered because the FBI declined to turn over once-classified documents.

The documentary is directed by Emmy and Peabody winner Phil Bertelsen. 

The Picture Taker artfully plays with rendering the photographic image for the screen. It graphically alters Withers’s likeness, transforming pictures of him into telling animations and cutouts that pull him out of the background in which he so often dwelled and into the foreground,” The New York Times wrote.

FBI Investigating 8 Cases of Potential Misconduct Involving Louisville Police

By Steve Neavling

The FBI is investigating eight cases of potential misconduct involving the Louisville Metro Police Department, the Louisville Courier Journal reports.

The FBI’s Louisville Field Office is leading the investigations. 

Most of the cases follow the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was killed by Louisville police in March 2020. 

Many of the cases involve the police department’s handling of protests over Taylor’s death. 

The oldest case is five years old and involves a sex abuse scandal in the department’s Explorer Scout program. The allegations came to light in a lawsuit filed by a 22-year-old who accused two officers of abuse. 

The officers also are accused of propositioning, molesting or intimidating more than a dozen former Scouts in the program. 

A decision in that case is expected soon. 

The FBI and Civil Rights Division in Washington D.C. are still investigating the death of Taylor. 

J. Edgar Hover Ordered Bureau to Hide That Witnesses to Malcolm X’s Assassination Were FBI Informants

Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover at his desk. Photo: FBI

By Steve Neavling

FBI informants witnessed Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination and were told not to reveal their work with the bureau when talking with police and prosecutors, according to a prosecutor. 

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance made the disclosure on Thursday when asking a judge to throw out the convictions of two of the three men convicted in the civil rights murder, The New York Times reports.

“We now have reports revealing that on orders from director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the F.B.I. ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were in fact F.B.I. informants,” Vance said in court.

Based on the prosecutor’s motion to vacate the convictions, Judge Ellen Biben exonerated Muhammad A. Aziz, 83, and Khalil Islam, who died in 2009. Thomas Hagan, who also was convicted in the murder, confessed to the killing during his trial but was adamant that the two other men were not involved. His conviction stands. 

The only men who said they witnessed Aziz and Islam participate in the killing were FBI informants, Vance said. The bureau never revealed that information to the defense.  

A nearly two-year investigation by prosecutors and the Innocence Project found that FBI documents also showed that a description of the assassins did not match Aziz or Islam.

“In short, it is unknown whether the identification procedures used in this case were properly conducted,” the motion to vacate stated, ABC News reports.

In a letter to the bureau’s office in New York one year before the assassination, Hoover asked agents to “do something about Malcolm X,” according to previously disclosed documents. 

2 Men Found Guilty in Malcolm X Killing to Be Exonerated Because FBI, Police Withheld Evidence

Malcolm X. Photo: Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling

Two of three men convicted in the 1965 killing of civil rights leader Malcolm X are expected to be exonerated after authorities said the FBI and police had withheld evidence in the case, The New York Times first reported.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said a 22-month investigation revealed that law enforcement withheld evidence in the trial of Muhammad A. Aziz, 83, and Khalil Islam, who died in 2009. Both men have maintained their innocence from the beginning. 

“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Mr. Vance said. “These men did not get the justice that they deserved.”

Thomas Hagan, who also was convicted in the murder, confessed to the killing during his trial but was adamant that the two other men were not involved. His conviction stands. 

Malcolm X was delivering a speech when he was fatally shot at New York’s Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965. 

Senate Confirms Kristen Clarke As First Black Woman to Lead DOJ’s Civil Rights Division

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney for the the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Photo: Twitter

By Steve Neavling

Kristen Clarke on Tuesday became the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, overcoming strong opposition from Republicans.

The Senate voted 51-48 to confirm Clarke, a longtime civil rights attorney and Justice Department veteran. Sen. Susan Collins was the lone Republican to vote for Clarke’s confirmation. 

As assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, Clarke will play a prominent role in cracking down on police brutality and enforcing voting rights laws and federal discrimination laws.

Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, received her law degree from Columbia University. She later prosecuted civil rights cases for the Justice Department before running the New York State Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau. In 2016, she became president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. 

Clarke often criticized President Trump’s administration for failing to enforce civil rights laws. 

Republicans opposed Clarke, saying she was too political and previously supported defunding the police.

Malcolm X’s Family Uncovers Letter Alleging FBI, NYPD Conspired in His Assassination

By Steve Neavling

The family of Malcolm X have made public a letter they say shows the New York Police Department and FBI conspired to assassinate the civil rights leader in 1965. 

The letter, written in January 2011 by Raymond A. Wood, a now-dead NYPD officer who was on duty when Malcom X was killed and said that he had “participated in actions in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to the advancement of my own black people,” The Washington Post reports.

In the letter, Woods states that his supervisors compelled him to coax two members of Malcolm X’s security team into committing crimes that led to their arrests just days before the shooting. As a result, the members of the security team were unable to provide security at a ballroom where Malcolm X had been killed. He says the arrest was part of a coordinated attempt between NYPD and the FBI to have Malcolm X killed, according to the letter. 

“Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts,” Wood’s letter stated.

Woods said the NYPD hired him to infiltrate civil rights groups “to find evidence of criminal activity so the F.B.I. could discredit and arrest its leader.”

After threatening to resign, Woods said his supervisor pledged to charge him with crimes he didn’t commit. 

The release of the letter coincides with the 56th anniversary of the assassination. 

Asked about the letter, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I have not seen that letter.”

“If you want to provide it to us, I’m happy to have the right person look into it after the briefing.”

New Documentary MLK/FBI Explores Surveillance of Civil Rights Icon

MLK/FBI movie poster.

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

A new documentary explores the FBI’s relentless surveillance and harassment of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

The Sam Pollard documentary relies on recently declassified files, interviews and archival imagery of the civil rights movement.

“We felt it was important to really look at how King was looked at from the perspective of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, that they considered him a very dangerous man,” Pollard tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They were going at him by any means necessary to destroy him. At the same time, we wanted to convey King’s trajectory as we see the FBI is really digging into him, wiretapping, bugging his hotel rooms, and finding out that he was not a monogamous man.”

Pollard, who is known for editing Spike Lee films, said he sees a parallel between the civil rights movement a half century ago and the Black Lives Matter movement today.

The documentary will make its world premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.

Justice Department Opens Investigation into Police Shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin on Sunday.

A Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, leaving him partially paralyzed and sparking days of unrest.

The FBI will lead the investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the DOJ said in a statement.

Blake, 29, was shot as he leaned into his car following an interaction with police at the scene. Police said they tried to use a Taser, but it was unsuccessful.

Police were called to the scene to investigate a reported domestic disturbance.

A knife was found in Blake’s car, but it’s unclear whether he was trying to reach for it when he was shot.