There was an interesting piece on NPR about a three-year push by the FBI to close cold-case murders from the civil rights era. Three years ago, the FBI pledged to investigate cases that had gone unsolved for decades. The effort is wrapping up now.
As FBI Agent Cynthia Deitle explains in the interview, a few of the deaths turned out to have nothing to do with the civil rights movements. Some murder cases were solved, but will go unprosecuted because the perpetrators are deceased. Despite this lack of action, I can’t imagine anyone questioning the value of the effort to close these cases. The FBI will contact the descendants of the victims of the cases, Deitle explained, and provide them with all of the information the bureau found.
“I think the only thing that we can give them is the truth,” she said.
Deitle is right, and the truth is no small thing. The FBI’s effort does more than provide answers. It conveys to the victims’ descendants, and to the country, that the victims of these crimes mattered, that their deaths were unacceptable, and that the nation’s failure to address them sooner was shameful.
This story made me think of the ongoing debate in Russia and the former Soviet Union about historical record. The Kremlin and its allies like to argue that discussion of Communist crimes is divisive and backward looking. That’s an insulting and unacceptable view. The recent dismissal of Ukrainian archivist Volodomyr Vyatrovych is an effort to prevent the Ukrainian nation from knowing the extent of Soviet crimes.
It took the United States four decades to address these civil rights murders and to provide whatever measure of justice possible. That was too long.
But the Holodomor took place more than 75 years ago. The Katyn Massacre took place 70 years ago. The NKVD’s mass murder of thousands of Ukrainians in Western Ukrainian jails during the Nazis invasion took place nearly 69 years ago. Where is the acknowledgment? Where is the contrition? Where is the truth? Where is the justice?
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