Family members of Emmett Till met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday morning to discuss the bill former President Barack Obama signed in December that allows the Department of Justice and FBI to reopen unsolved civil rights crimes that happened before 1980.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016, an expansion of a 2008 bill, is named after the 14-year-old who was kidnapped and brutally lynched by two white men who accused him of whistling at a white woman in 1955.
Activist Alvin Sykes, who first pushed for the bill in 2005, invited Till’s cousin Deborah Watts and other family members to join his meeting with Sessions. After the meeting, Watts told MSNBC that the purpose of the meeting was to stress the importance of prioritizing cases under this act.
“We want it to be a priority and we wanted to let [Sessions] know how important it is that this bill is,” Watts said. “The implementation of the bill needs to take place. There are other families out there that have no justice, they don’t know the truth about some of their loved ones that have been murdered. There’s been no adjudication and no answers.”
Watts said in order for the act to effect change, the DOJ should have open lines of communication and families of victims should have the ability to work with the department as long as the law permits.
Sessions has been criticized for racist practices in the past. During a 1986 confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship, one of his former black employees testified that Sessions demeaningly called him “boy” more than once and wanted to drop the case against two Ku Klux Klan members who allegedly lynched a black teen.
Watts said that despite some initial concerns she had about Sessions, she believes the meeting went “very well.”
“With this situation, I felt very good about it,” she said. “I know that there’s been concerns and of course I can’t say that I didn’t have some of those concerns myself. But we left with very clear commitment, if you will, regarding the ability to work with the Justice Department as we move forward.”
How the DOJ proceeds with this act could impact Till’s family’s case, too. After a book exposing Till’s accuser’s lie was published in February, Watts said that the new information is cause enough to reopen her cousin’s case.
Watch Watts’ full interview in the video above.