Two lynchings, nearly 60 years apart.
In 1955 a 14 year old African American boy, Emmet Till, was kidnapped from his great uncle’s house in Mississippi by a lynch mob. They beat him to a pulp, gouged out his eyes, knocked out all but two of his teeth and mutilated him. Then they tied his body to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire and dumped him in the Tallahatchie River.
In 2014 – just this week in fact – a 16 year old Roma boy, Darius (his surname has not been released), was kidnapped from his home in a Roma camp in Paris by a lynch mob. They beat him to a pulp, fracturing his skull in several places and left him for dead in a supermarket trolley. He is still in a coma in hospital.
The murderers of Emmet Till attacked him after he had reportedly either said “bye, baby” or whistled at a white woman. In the Southern states of the US, where Jim Crow segregation was legal, this claim was considered enough for the lynch mob to strike.
Those who beat Darius attacked him because they reportedly believed him to be a burglar. Darius has no convictions for any crime. But in France where Parti Socialiste president François Hollande – like his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy – has whipped up anti-Roma racism, smashing up their camps and deporting them, this claim was considered enough for the lynch mob to strike.
Emmet’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, bravely fought for her son’s body – hurriedly covered in lime and sealed in a coffin in Mississippi – to be brought home to Chicago, where she insisted on an open casket funeral. She explained:
I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.
I knew that I could talk for the rest of my life about what had happened to my baby, I could explain it in great detail, I could describe what I saw laid out there on a slab… and people still would not get the full impact.
They would not be able to visualize what had happened, unless they were allowed to see the results of what had happened. They had to see what I had seen. The whole nation had to bear witness to this.
When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stood up before.
Darius’s family, who believed their son had been killed after the attackers phoned them on his mobile to demand money, are understood to have fled their home in fear. A Roma neighbour found his dumped body.
Two of those who mutilated and killed Emmett Till were acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury after just 67 minutes’s deliberation. The murderers later gave a paid-for press interview admitting they had killed the 14 year old boy.
We do not yet know whether those who beat Darius to within an inch of his life will be brought to justice. Already, France’s fascist party, the FRont National – fresh from its victory in the European elections – is attempting to justify the horrific beating. While issuing a tokem condemnation, FN vice president Louis Aliot said it was not surprising that “citizens defend themselves”.
As the brutal attack on 16 year old Darius brings home the escalating climate of racism against Roma people in France (and elsewhere in Europe) now is the time for those who have never stood up before to stand up.
What Mamie Till-Mobley said of the US is true in France:
The whole nation had to bear witness to this.
The image originally accompanying this story has been removed at the request of Darius’s family.