Mamie Till did the unspeakable almost 60 years ago. She opened the casket at her son Emmett's funeral so the world could see how this 14-year-old was shot, bludgeoned, mutilated and then drowned in Mississippi's Tallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan attached to his neck with barbed wire.
The gruesome picture of a bloated Till was published in Jet Magazine and the nation was mortified, before becoming much more acutely aware of the vicious brutality and prevalence of racism and white supremacy in America. Emmett Till's transgression — remember this was 1955 in the Deep South — was that he whistled at a white woman. Mamie Till was hoping that the nation would be so repulsed by what it saw in that casket that it would be stirred to take action to prevent such a monstrous act from happening again.
Historians believe the photo influenced the civil rights movement, spurring folks such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King to take courageous stances of their own against the horror of human and civil rights abuses.
An operative of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told me in a casual conversation recently that when the governor attended a memorial for one of the 26 victims of the Dec. 14 Newtown massacre, the mother of one of the victims took Malloy aside. She opened the casket to show the governor firsthand what carnage from the massacre looked like.
You can bet that image steeled the governor's resolve to push for expanded gun laws in Connecticut, ones that could not get passed in Congress.
It was disappointing to learn this week that staffs in Malloy's, the chief state's attorney's and General Assembly's offices reportedly met secretly to draft a law blocking records related to the police investigations of Sandy Hook from becoming public. It's a well-intended effort to shield the families and friends of the victims from further pain, but it is misguided nonetheless.
No disrespect to the families at Sandy Hook, but rarely does anything good come from a government's attempt to suppress evidence and information. Usually, these arrogant efforts simply embolden a resourceful free press. A truly free country is one that embraces (though not always likes) a free press, one that challenges authority and works in large part to publish information that the government prefers to keep private. Any effort to blunt that basic premise of the Fourth Estate should be contested vigorously.
The fact that clandestine meetings took place and that the media uncovered these discussions to pass a special exemption is proof enough of the need for full disclosure from public officials.
Another example of unnecessary government intrusion in media is the disturbing and unprecedented action by the Department of Justice, which recently seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press. Apparently, the Justice Department was concerned about a leak. So, it used an extreme measure to undermine, intimidate and usurp one of America's most prominent media organizations.
A letter of protest, signed by more than 50 media companies, was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder this week, demanding an explanation and that the government cease and desist from this kind of action. They also asked that the phone records be returned and any copies destroyed.
A similar type of uproar from Connecticut media about the secret talks for a special exemption should find itself on the governor's desk. Yes, freedom of information vs. a family's right to privacy (or a government's desire to protect the public) should always be considered. But the scales should always be weighted toward the public's right to know.
Exhibit A: The media also recently outed the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a possible "co-conspirator" in a 2010 espionage case. Rosen reportedly had a source inside the administration who helped Rosen in reporting on stories about North Korea's testing of nuclear weapons. Rosen is no spy, folks; just a journalist investigating a sensitive story that the government wanted classified.
The truth sometimes hurts and many times it can be embarrassing, uncomfortable — and even nauseating. It is, however, the price we pay for a free press. Where there is truth, there is light — and the opportunity to illuminate wrongs and make them right.
Mamie Till understood.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FOX CT).