Civil Rights Revisited: Equal Human Rights over Minority Perceptions
Today’s blog was written by Micah Colston, Archives Technician at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and a graduate student at the University of Maryland
We are not too surprised when we hear about cases of racial profiling, wrongful arrests and police brutality during the civil rights era. However, rarely heard about are the few encouraging cases where this behavior doesn’t slip below the radar.
RG 60 Department of Justice (DOJ) case file # 144-35-456 (National Archives Identifier 603432) tells the story of Emory Jones, who I thought was the cousin of rapper Jay Z. Its not the same person, but his story is still very interesting. Jones was assaulted by police after his arrest in 1970. The case file contains letters, memorandums, investigative reports and other related documents detailing the investigation of the possible violation of Jones’ civil rights.
Jones was pulled over for excessive use of his horn and subsequently arrested in Laurel, Maryland. He was taken to the local police station, where he was assaulted in his cell. The arresting officers lied about the encounter and maintained that they had done nothing wrong until an internal investigation provided enough evidence of their wrong doing. One officer involved in the ordeal resigned from the police force and attempted to seek employment in another police station. But, the police chief denied the resignation and terminated the accused officer. The police chief stated that “he would not tolerate such a man in his department.”
Discovering this case showed me that even in the 1970’s there were people willing to stand up for the underprivileged and not allow certain officers to feel and act as if they were above the law. Moreover, they did not allow an incident of this nature to go under the radar, even though the strong social perceptions of minorities during this time period surely allowed others to get away with greater offenses.
Today we enjoy a much better time as far as civil liberties and equality, but we still have progress left to be made in changing the image portrayed of many minority groups. Cases like Jones’ provide us with an example of people standing up for what is right in a societal environment where not many would blame them for standing idly by. Recognizing this should help encourage us to do the same today. Cases like that of Trayvon Martin (2013) reveal the power that social perceptions and the portrayal of minorities can have even on the image of youth. We still need to change the way we portray different groups and start seeing ourselves as one nation not only equally free as individuals, but equally deserving of the same image and considerations regardless of race, religion, or gender. It will always be important to look to our history to see evidence of positive change and people standing up for what is right.
*This case file has to be screened for FOIA (b)(6) Personal Information and FOIA (b)(7) Law Enforcement prior to use by researchers. For more information on filing a FOIA request please visit here.