Journalists succeed where investigators failed
Dedicated journalists are digging up old civil rights cases and uncovering what investigators and the FBI could not.
This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
On Feb. 28, 1964, Clifton Walker was driving home near Natchez, Mississippi, when his car was surrounded by armed men. Walker, a black man, was shot to death by suspected Ku Klux Klan members and left inside his car. More than 46 years later, Walker's murder remains unsolved.
In 2007, the Federal government announced the creation of the Civil Rights-Era Cold Case Initiative, an effort to solve cases like Walker's. "You have not gotten away with anything," then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warned sternly. "We are still on your trail."
As of today, there has not been a single prosecution, nor a federal incitement, produced by the heralded Civil Rights-Era Cold Case Initiative.
More than 20 civil rights cases have been prosecuted since 1994, but Shaila Dewan reports for the New York Times that the Federal government cannot take credit for those successes. Instead, journalists and family members have stepped up to investigate cases that the government has failed to solve.
In Walker's case, investigative reporter Benjamin Greenberg stepped up, found Walker's family and is uncovering the missing details of Walker's murder. He told PRI's The Takeaway, "I was simply a freelancer with no affiliation whatsoever and had no external support." When he finally found Walker's daughter, Catherine Walker Jones, she said:
We'd waited forever for Ben. We'd waited forever for that phone call to say hey, we want to talk to you about your father's unsolved murder. Can you even imagine what we must have gone through. We have not had closure in 46 years
Greenberg eventually teamed up with the Civil Rights Cold Case Project and is working to solve the case. But time is running out. Witnesses are dying and the case is already long cold.
There is a difference between a case being "solved as in prosecuted or solved as in learning the truth," Greenberg asserts. He has uncovered reasons why the original investigation may have stalled, including the fact that law enforcement officers at the time may have been members of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Greenberg, the investigation has also led to reconciliation between Walker Jones and members of her community.
Walker's case has not been solved yet, but Greenberg and Walker's family are still working diligently to figure out what happened. "We still have great hopes of knowing the truth, Greenberg told The Takeaway, "and some hope of pursuing justice through the courts."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at thetakeaway.org