Our earlier coverage . . .
The Last 1963 Church Bombing Trial:
Birmingham, AL, May 22, 2002 -- The 71-year-old former Klansman, Bobby Frank Cherry, was found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in the last 1963 church bombing trial. The jury -- six white women, three white men, three African-American men -- had deliberated a little over seven hours.
After 39 years, local civil rights groups were singing again with renewed energy.
Cherry automatically received a sentence of life in prison. There may or may not be an appeal based on his mental disabilities. Neither family nor defense team expects him to survive long in state prison.
Everyone responding to the verdict talks of the need to move on. Carol McKinstry, 15 years old and in the church at the time of the blast said, "no matter which way it goes, I will be able to move on."
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth spoke along the same lines.Birmingham, the town of my heart, was now on the rise, he said. I felt pride at his words.
But then he went on to talk of Frank Cherry's alleged vascular dementia. Cherry was "pretending to be incompetent, ... wasting our time." He labeled Cherry's mental problems as being "from God," "for righteousness sake" and "for the benefit of the people."
Hearing those additional comments made me feel as heart-sick as I had been proud just a moment before. There has been a general chilling glee expressed throughout these proceedings that mental illness is not a serious disability.
After today it will be a little easier to tell people I am from Birmingham. I have had one foot on either side of a racial ravine for years, but the gaping wound in that red clay closed today. I and my Southern friends who have hungered for closure in this case got to live long enough to see it happen. We celebrate that.
Yet the trial was drenched with "handicappist" politics. Everyone needed the old Cherry with disabilities to be found guilty, whether he could participate in his own defense or not. Over and over and over again, I've had to listen to a huge number of people discount mental illness as a real disability .
Birmingham has carried the terrible burden of the unresolved church bombing all this time. Rev. Shuttlesworth said today that, "now the city can breathe a sigh of relief."
Yes, but can people with disabilities?
Rus Cooper-Dowda is a minister and freelance writer in St. Petersburg, Fla.Read former coverage:
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