Eric Holder Speaks of a Young Black Man Who 'Died Senselessly and Far Too Soon'

By Susan Jones | November 18, 2014 | 6:31am EST

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine (second from right), Attorney General Eric Holder and others participate in a tree planting in honor of Emmett Till, a young African-American killed in 1955, during a ceremony on Capitol Hill on Monday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( - Attorney General Eric Holder wasn't talking about 18-year-old Michael Brown on Monday, but he could have been as he described the "unspeakable tragedy" involving another black youth, whose killers were "never held to account."

As racial tensions simmer in Ferguson, Missouri over Brown's death at the hands of a white police officer, Holder went to Capitol Hill to plant a tree in memory of another black youth -- 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was murdered in 1955 by "violent (white) men with hatred in their hearts."

"Yet even today, the pain from this unspeakable crime, this unspeakable tragedy, still feels raw -- perhaps because those responsible for this hate crime were never held to account," Holder said at the tree-planting ceremony.

Even as Holder spoke, nerves were raw in Ferguson, where protesters fear the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown will not be "held to account" either.

A grand jury is expected to decide this week whether or not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. On Monday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, in anticipation of violence when the grand jury decision comes down. Protestors have made it clear that nothing short of a murder indictment will satisfy them, but the facts of the case may not support such a decision.

In his remarks on Monday, Holder compared Brown's death to Till's, even though he never mentioned Brown's name.

Holder said Till "died senselessly and far too soon"; he noted that Till's "tragic murder galvanized millions to action"; and he talked about the "murderous, hate-filled summer night" when Till died. Brown was killed in August, prompting "hate-filled summer night(s)" of protests.

Then Holder mentioned "recent history."

"[o]ur history -- including our recent history -- is dotted with the stories of far too many other Emmett Tills, Matthew Shepards, and James Byrds: talented, thriving people, many of them young, with promising futures stretching out before them -- all cut down, brutally and unnecessarily, because of what they looked like or who they were.

"Although today our hearts still ache for Emmett Till, and for so many others -- before and since -- who have suffered the same fate, from the darkness of these tragic losses there have arisen great sparks of humanity that have transformed our nation to be more strong, more equal, and more free."

Holder noted that Till's murder was not in vain because it launched the civil rights movement.

"And today, we commemorate this legacy by planting a tree in his honor -- a tree that will become his living memorial, here at the heart of our Republic, in the shadow of the United States Capitol."

Holder said the tree will "honor the enduring legacy of a young man -- a boy, really -- who never had the chance to grow old. And it will ensure that Emmett Till's story, his example, and his too-short life will be preserved forever -- on these grounds now made hallow, but also in the memories of all who knew him, in the work of those who carry on his fight, and in the hearts and minds of generations yet to come.

"In remembering that young man in the way we do today, we ennoble our nation and make our union more perfect."

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