Saturday, January 08, 2005


It's not the crime

It's not even the cover-up. It's the refusal to take responsibility, to face up to the truth, to lead the way.
Indictment Makes Start at Lifting a 40-Year-Old Cloud Over a Mississippi County

With a new, more integrated generation of residents, the town is more likely to produce a jury that will convict Mr. Killen when he goes on trial, probably this summer, some people said. But there were reservations.

At a barbershop near the courthouse, the proprietors, Stacy Adkins and Chad Young, said they had mixed feelings about the indictment. Both called the crime abhorrent. But both wondered about the ethics of prosecuting an aged, hard-of-hearing man.

And both worried that the trial might stir up old passions.

"The South already has a bad reputation," said Mr. Adkins, 30. "This isn't going to help us live it down."
Actually, it would. Being forthright about condemning the past, not trying to bury it, would be the absolute best thing the South could do to overcome its self-admittedly bad reputation. In the same way that Germany has done a very good job of confronting its Nazi past rather than trying to pretend that it didn't happen.
Across the street, Joe Mulholland, 68, a lawyer who has lived here all his life, also fretted that the case might rekindle stereotypes of Mississippi as a hotbed of racism.

"We've changed since then," he said, fingering a yellowing file folder on his cluttered desk. "I just hope there's some closure and that we can move on."
Finishing this case once and for all, definitively convicting the culprit, will send the strongest possible signal that Mississippi has changed.
Mr. Prince, 40, said he believed such sentiments were inevitable, and perhaps healthy.

"You've got to open the wound and clean it before it can heal," he said. "It's as if we've had this open gash on the arm for 40 years and have done nothing but put a bandage on it."
Absolutely. Self-examination and self-criticism are painful, but they are also the sincerest possible way of showing that you know you once did bad and genuinely intend not to do bad anymore. Any other attitude means you don't know or don't care that you did bad, and that you don't really mean to change.

Any group that truly wants a good reputation must police itself, must root out its bad element, regardless of whether or not they think bad publicity will make them look bad. Actually, policing yourself makes you look great, except for people who are going to hate you no matter what you do. I don't hate the South (although I have to admit I did in the 1960s). But if the South really wants the rest of the world to think they've truly changed - then they have to truly change! Otherwise, it's just spin. Otherwise known as, "We didn't do it, and we'll never do it again." Yawn.
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