The story seems to be a familiar one. Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26 year old church Deacon, Vietnam veteran and civil rights worker is shot twice by a law enforcement official and dies eight days later from a brutal beating and gun shot wounds.
Events surrounding his death seem eerily similar to the deaths of young black men in recent year. It is entirely possible that nothings changed since the winter of 1965 and that society has begun to notice the deaths. Perhaps social media and citizens with video camera equipped hand-held cell phones, have brought attention to these tragedies, these events may have been occurring all along. It’s also possible that law enforcement’s use of extreme force when it comes to black men has never changed.
Jimmie Lee was unarmed. The grand jury seated to indict the State Trooper for beating Jimmie Lee and shooting him twice in his stomach was not indicted. The health care professionals did a poor job which facilitated him being moved to a different hospital. Then after the horrific killing and funeral, civil rights leaders gathered to make a public display of outrage and bring attention to the country and indeed the world.
Born on December 16, 1938, shot on February 18, 1965 and dying on February 26, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson was one of many reasons for the march from Selma to Montgomery. When civil rights leaders visited the Jimmie Lee in the hospital and surveyed the damaged to the many people in Marion, Alabama, that were beaten the night of February 18, 1965 and worked to get the release of James Orange another civil rights worker from jail, the outrage and call for action was “in the works”.
The minority population in the counties surrounding Selma was substantial. The amount of registered voters was not. The right to vote, the first amendment right to assemble (protest) is being fought for 50 years after the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Recent court challenges by States to the 1964 Civil Rights Act is an just a legal attempt to deny the rights that were fought for so many years ago. The Alabama State Troopers that beat protesters and killed Jimmie Lee so many years ago can be traced, at least, symbolically to the anonymous (name tag covered) law enforcement officers of Ferguson, Missouri.
This story took 45 years for closure. James Bonard Fowler, was given 6 months in jail for his killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. The former Alabama State Trooper was 73 years old when he confessed to the crime. He became the first law enforcement official ever to go to jail for his part is a civil rights related death. He was released from jail in July of 2011.
We can only pray that the families and loved ones of the young black men killed by law enforcement recently will get some closure. Perhaps this time the marches and new laws that will undoubtedly be passed or at least debated will have a positive effect.
For more details of the events surrounding the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson