Solving Civil Rights Cold Cases is Focus of New McCaskill-backed Bill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill joined Senator Doug Jones of Alabama in introducing legislation that would require the review, declassification, and release of government records related to unsolved criminal civil rights cases—that builds on the 2016 law McCaskill championed that renewed congressional support for efforts to investigate and prosecute unsolved racially-motivated murders.

“We’ve made progress ensuring these heinous acts of violence and hatred are able to be brought to justice—but we have more work to do,” said McCaskill, a former Jackson County Prosecutor. “Helping families and advocates get access to these documents could help their push towards justice for these long unsolved cold cases.”

The Senators’ Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 would require the National Archives and Records Administration to establish a collection of cold case records about unsolved criminal civil rights cases that government offices must publicly disclose in the collection without redaction or withholding. The bill would also establish an independent agency to facilitate the review, transmission, and public disclosure of government records related to these unsolved cases. Currently, due to unnecessary classification or issues with the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, the information related to these cold cases is often highly redacted or unavailable to the public, including journalists, historians, private investigators, local law enforcement, and others who can help investigate these unsolved crimes.

McCaskill has long pushed to help bring justice to unsolved civil rights cases. In 2008, McCaskill was a leader in efforts to pass the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which provided a means to investigate and prosecute racially-motivated murders that occurred on or before December 31, 1969. The legislation established offices within the Department of Justice and FBI to investigate and prosecute murders from the civil rights era, and authorized $10 million annually for investigations and $2 million for grants to states in order to support this work.

In 2016, McCaskill again led bipartisan efforts in the Senate relating to unsolved criminal civil rights cases, this time to renew the 2008 Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which would have expired in 2017. The bill’s renewal continued the allocation of funds to the Department of Justice and FBI offices and provided for the investigation of all racially-motivated murders, despite date of occurrence. McCaskill worked closely with civil rights advocate Alvin Sykes of Kansas City to advance the 2016 renewal, which was ultimately signed into law.