The power of a false accusation

When I was a child, my grandfather told me a story about a boy.

The boy went to visit relatives. While he was with his cousins, he noticed a woman. The boy whistled at the woman. The woman took offense and told some of her male relatives about it. Those men sought the boy, found him, and tortured him to death. His body was so mutilated that it was difficult to identify him. The boy’s mother had an open casket for his funeral so that people could see what the men had done to her 14-year-old son. The men were found, charged, and taken to trial, but were acquitted. They later admitted that they had killed the boy.

The boy’s name was Emmett Till.

I asked my grandfather why they killed the boy for whistling at the woman. He told me it was because the boy was black and the woman was white. I was about five or six when he told me about Emmett Till. I found it baffling. I could not understand what being black or white had to do with the whistling. My grandfather tried to explain the racial dynamics, but I still could not understand why it mattered.

However, I did understand one thing: the woman probably lied.

Perhaps it was the way my grandfather told me story or perhaps it was just the nature of what he described. As he explained the racial dynamics of the 1950s, the more I thought the woman lied. It turns out that my childhood assumption was true.

Carolyn Bryant, the woman at the center of the murder, admitted that she lied about Till grabbing by the hand and waist and whistling at her:

During the trial, Bryant testified that Till had also made physical and verbal advances toward her, a sensational claim that worsened tensions over the case. But according to a 2007 interview newly revealed in the book “The Blood of Emmett Till,” Bryant admits that never happened.

“That part’s not true,” she told writer Timothy Tyson, according to Vanity Fair, though she claimed she could not recall what happened the rest of the evening at her husband’s country store, where Emmett stopped by briefly on Aug. 24, 1955, to buy 2 cents worth of gum.

That is quite different from what Bryant told the court back in 1955:

Her court testimony was out of the earshot of the jury, but helped to frame the case publicly.

She testified that Till had grabbed and threatened her inside the store – and that he had used an “unprintable” word when he told her he had been intimate “with white women before.”

“I was just scared to death,” she said in court.

The scared white woman act led the all-white, all-male jury to acquit Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam.

Bryant now expresses guilt over what she did, stating to Tyson, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

It is about 60 years too late for that sentiment. Several of the articles written about Tyson’s book quote the following line:

“That case went a long way toward ruining her life,” Tyson told Vanity Fair.

I do not care, and neither should anyone else.

These two men kidnapped Till, took him to a shed or some other location, the evidence waivers, and beat him. One of his eyes was gouged out. They eventually shot him and dumped his body in a river, weighing it down with a fan blade. According to various reports, different people passing the location could hear someone getting beaten, yet no one did anything to stop it.

This is what was done to a 14-year-old boy because he spoke or looked at a woman of the “wrong” race.

Bryant does not deserve any sympathy. It does not matter how much her life was ruined by the trial. Her lie led to the murder of a 14-year-old. At worst, this was because Till thought she was pretty and may have said so in the manner that most 14-year-old boys would express. For the sin of being a frank teenager and black, he was tortured and murdered.

One does not deserve sympathy for causing that, nor should you get it after sitting on the truth for 60 years, waiting 13 years after Till’s mother’s death to admit you lied.

Whatever tribulations Bryant faced as a result of the trial is barely a drop in what she owes to Till and his family for what she did.

If one venture around the internet, you may find a number of feminists, particularly white feminists, siding with Till and railing against Bryant. What you will not find is any of them acknowledging what occurred: a false accusation.

Yes, race played a major role in why Till was killed. That is beyond question. Yet he would not have been killed had Bryant not lied about his behavior.

This is the power of a false accusation. This is why it is so important not to resort to mob justice as so many feminists seem to want. This is why it is so important to question accusations and not assume that every claim is necessarily true. These types of cases still happen. There have been other men and boys killed because some woman or girl accused them of unwanted sexual advances or sexual assault.

Actions have consequences. Contrary to what many feminists appear to think, false accusations have consequences. The falsely accused can have their lives ruined. They can find themselves unable to get into schools, find employment, find housing, or live a normal life. They run the risk, particularly with today’s social media nature, of people searching their name and only finding “rapist”. That puts them in physical danger.

What happens when someone decides to assault them? Or kill them? Where will the feminists be then? Siding with the accuser?

There is a long history in the United States of white women lying about black men assaulting them. There is also a long history of women lying about sexual assault. What happened to Till happened because people were willing to believe those claims without question because those claims played into their negative views about black males. The same holds true with general false accusations. They work primarily because they play to people’s biases.

The next time we hear a case about sexual violence, we should take it seriously and investigate. Yet we should also remember Emmett Till. We should remember the power of a false accusation.

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6 thoughts on “The power of a false accusation

  1. I think your conclusion is laudable. But isn’t the real problem here unbridled racism? Her testimony was not subject to scrutiny because they wanted to believe her. I have myself had an experience of false accusation. A woman I had had a relationship with tried to accuse me of rape. She phoned a rape crisis hotline (in Brighton UK). To their credit, they stopped her taking the accusation further, as it was clear it was baseless. A few weeks later I was contacted by the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan police. She had phoned an an anonymous police line which had been set up to investigate the murder of Sir Ian Gow. I was questioned by the police, who were extremely professional in the whole thing. They had recorded her number on the call, and when I suggested she might be behind it they immediately saw it for a maicious accusation – of which they receive many. I believe she was cautioned for wasting police time. I never heard from her again thank God.

  2. race doesn’t matter as much as the false accusation. a white boy would have faced the same abuse. they already have been.

  3. I think that it is well past time to prosecute false accusers with the same vigor the accused receive. A high proportion of innocent men are being punished, making a mockery of justice.

  4. I think your conclusion is laudable. But isn’t the real problem here unbridled racism?

    The primary issue is obviously race. If you read one of the men’s comments about Till, he states that black men who want have sex with white women no longer want to live. That kind of hatred can lead to the type of violence the men committed.

    However, it needs a catalyst and the false accusation provided one. It is probable those men would have and did assault other black people. They likely would not have assaulted Till but for the lie.

  5. “I think that it is well past time to prosecute false accusers with the same vigor the accused receive. A high proportion of innocent men are being punished, making a mockery of justice.”

    I’ve got a Nephew and a former Co-worker who can attest to this. It’s scary to think just how far the damage from a False Accusation can go, whether sexual or otherwise. Thankfully my Nephew-In-Law had a trusted witness present to halt things before they got too serious. My work colleague wasn’t so lucky and had to spend time away from his family during the Christmas holiday season many years back despite his wife trying to redact her previous statement of physical assault.

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