In 2006, the FBI began its “Cold Case Initiative” — a comprehensive effort to identify and investigate racially-motivated murders committed decades ago. Pursuant to that Initiative and the passage of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act (“Emmett Till Act”), signed into law on October 8, 2008, the Department and the FBI are working together to address “violations of criminal civil rights statutes . . . result[ing] in death” that “occurred not later than December 31, 1969.” Toward that end, each of the 56 FBI field offices searched their “cold case files” to identify incidents which might be ripe for investigation. Since February of 2007, the FBI and the Division have partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and the National Urban League to identify additional cases for investigation and to solicit their help.
The Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with United States Attorneys' Offices (USAOs) and the FBI, has focused significant time and resources to assess the prosecutability of more than 100 pending cold case matters. This effort is coordinated and led by an accomplished “cold case” prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division. Department officials have conducted and continue to conduct extensive outreach to identify evidence and witnesses to enhance the Department’s efforts to investigate and resolve these unsolved cold cases. The legal and factual challenges in these decades-old matters are enormous, and we realize that few, if any, of these matters will be prosecutable.
Nonetheless, we have offered rewards for information to help solve these crimes; sought assistance from community groups and others; asked community members for evidence in town hall meetings and other programs; engaged the academic community; reached out to the media; and collaborated with state and local law enforcement organizations. We have also begun a process of trying to provide answers to the family members of victims, even where we cannot bring justice, by providing them with detailed notification letters that set forth our investigative efforts and our findings.
The Department’s efforts to date are summarized in the Attorney General’s Reports to Congress, accessible from the links below.