U.S. v. Price

US Constitutional Law

U.S. v. Price
‘Murder in Mississippi’ by Norman Rockwell

In a controversial case involving assault and murder, the actions of both law enforcement officers and citizens of Neshoba County, Mississippi, amounted to the wanton execution of three unarmed African-Americans in the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

Having detained the men on grounds unestablished during the appeal, the now defendant Deputy Sheriff released them without charge in the early hours of a June morning, only to later pull their vehicle over on Highway 19, whereupon he removed them from the car and drove them in his own police vehicle, to an unpaved road located off the highway.

It was there that the respondent, along with another seventeen men, two of which included a Sheriff Rainey and Patrolman Willis of the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department collectively assaulted, shot and killed the men in cold blood, before removing their bodies to a dam construction site located roughly five miles southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Upon indictment to the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the defendants were charged with direct violations of 18 U.S.C. §§  241 and 242, which read that:

“(§ 241) If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same….They shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

(§ 242) Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State….to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States….by reason of his color, or race….shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both….and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section….shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”

Along with allegations that the assaults were violative of the now-deceased victims’ rights to trial under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

With consideration of the limitations of constitutional statute, and the precedent that such protections were only enforceable between citizens and States, the court held the convictions unlawful and the charges were thus dismissed by a grand jury, after which the United States appealed to U.S. Supreme Court in the hope of greater clarity of judgment.

Tackling § 242 first, the Court noted that while the officers were clearly acting under ‘color of law’ in a literal sense, nothing altered the fact that the same term applied not only to those employed by the State, but to all civilians of the United States, therefore the Court upheld the charges while holding that:

“[T]hey were participants in official lawlessness, acting in wilful concert with State officers and hence under color of law.”

While in relation to § 241, the Court highlighted that in U.S. v. Williams, the Court had held § 241 as inapplicable to the Fourteenth Amendment, however the overall decision came not from uniform judicial agreement, but a single ruling of res judicata, which left the issue of applicability unanswered until now.

It was at this point that the Court held instead, how:

“s 241 must be read as it is written-to reach conspiracies to injure any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States; that this language includes rights or privileges protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….”

While adding that:

“[T]he State, without the semblance of due process of law as required of it by the Fourteenth Amendment, used its sovereign power and office to release the victims from jail so that they were not charged and tried as required by law, but instead could be intercepted and killed. If the Fourteenth Amendment forbids denial of counsel, it clearly denounces denial of any trial at all.”

After which the Court promptly reversed and remanded the case back to the district court, while reminding the parties that:

“[A] decision interpreting a federal law in accordance with its historical design, to punish denials by State action of constitutional rights of the person can hardly be regarded as adversely affecting the wise adjustment between State responsibility and national control…”


Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Film Blogs

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

“You are stronger than us, but soon I think they be stronger than you.” – Old Priest

Rewind almost forty years ago, and you have the first time my (young) eyes fell on this apocalyptic masterpiece. George A. Romero became a hero of mine; an iconoclastic anti-establishment voice of reason, who managed to both scare the crap out of me and yet leave me sensing there was more to this world than I initially understood.

With a cultural premise that seemed light years ahead of our own, entrenched traditions such as grand mall shopping, community shooting parties, deep racial tension and armed response squads were used to define the American way (in Philadelphia at least). It stood as a prescript that ignored human and emotional need, in favour of such wholesome virtues as force-fed violence, ignorance and material greed. By adding a million or so walking dead into that already claustrophobic picture, Dawn of the Dead made for one hell of a ride.

The film initially terrifies and often overwhelms, but keep watching and searching for real substance, and it takes on a completely new form altogether. Only then are you rewarded with intelligent analogies, acute social metaphors and a growing respect for a genre that for my part, has never waned. Moreover, as with many enduring movie classics, the focus ultimately ends up on relationships, both human and otherwise, and so without giving away plot-lines or misleading potential viewers, it is best for me to briefly describe why Dawn of the Dead broke ticket-sale expectations and changed the social landscape of America forever.

In 1978, pretty much anything was possible. If it was plausible that man could fly and land on the moon, then why wouldn’t the dead spring to life and eat the living? In fact, it became the focus of obsession for many underground film-makers of the time, and remains a sub-cultural fantasy today, spawning video games, novels and later, numerous remakes and even a television series (The Walking Dead) that itself seems impossible to end.

It was this creative freedom to speculate which enabled Dawn of the Dead to quickly find its audience, and break down the walls of cinematic expression; always remaining beyond the reach of movie critics and federal censors, while daring viewers to accept such a brutally cold reality; in fact no other horror concept has ever come close to this nightmarish vision since.

Ultimately, I could easily offer reams of reasons why this film is vintage cinema gold, but the many-layered message would then be lost for those uninitiated, and I hardly relish the idea of committing journalistic sacrilege for the sake of bombast. Rather, I end my blog by giving this amazing slice of horror/social commentary/drama my absolute highest recommendation, and note for the record that Gaylen Ross (pictured) was as powerful a role model as Sigourney Weaver in the late 1970s, but sadly never received the praise or recognition she fully deserved.

May God bless her.