The 2021 Return of Emmett Till

Last month, a Black man was killed by a White man in Oregon because he complimented the man’s White girlfriend. Sound familiar?

Bonsu Thompson
LEVEL
Published in
5 min readOct 9, 2021

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Photo: Mamie Till-Mobley / Public Domain

Earlier this year, an old photo of Emmett Till and his mother spread across the internet. Although the picture of Till alive and smiling next to his mother had been seen for decades, its revitalization came from the fact that it wasn’t in black-and-white; the slain boy has seldom been depicted in full color. The teenager’s visible melanin illuminates his smile and adds dimension to his face. The kid who would fall victim to racially motivated kidnapping and torture before a horrific death appears happier and more alive than ever.

While the picture slides another feather into the cap of modern technology, it also reminds us that Till’s murder isn’t ancient history. The travesty didn’t take place during America’s reconstruction or prohibition eras; it occurred in 1955, when many of our parents were children. Yet 66 years later, the ghost of Emmett Till has never once been allowed to rest.

Last month, in Bend, Oregon, a Black man was murdered by a White man for allegedly complimenting a White woman. On September 19, 22-year-old Barry Washington Jr. was shot and killed by Ian Cranston after supposedly hitting on Cranston’s girlfriend, Allie Butler. The murder took place outside of the Capitol nightclub on the corner of Wall Street and Oregon Avenue, but the incident began inside. Washington first paid a compliment to Butler; the young man’s language nor behavior were inappropriate. Butler’s response was reportedly kind: “I’m flattered, but I’m in a relationship.”

Shortly after midnight, while outside of Capitol, Washington gave Butler an additional compliment, this time infuriating her boyfriend. Cranston approached Washington and a mild scuffle ensued. Cranston, a machinist at a bullet manufacturer who possesses a concealed carrier’s license, pulled out his pistol and shot the unarmed Washington dead.

Initially, Cranston was arrested on suspicion of second-degree manslaughter. He quickly posted a $10,000 bail. Normally, this is where the White man who commits a heinous act gets treated like a jaywalker. This time was different, though, particularly for two…

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Bonsu Thompson
LEVEL
Writer for

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.