Credit: Tony Webster

This is just a brief reminder that it’s the 54th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. We should take a moment to remember Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carol Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14), the four African-American girls who were killed in the attack while they were changing into their choir clothes. We should also remember the four Klansmen who were responsible: Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, and Bobby Frank Cherry.

I also want to mention another victim:

Virgil Ware, aged 13, was shot in the cheek and chest with a revolver in a residential suburb 15 miles north of the city. A 16-year-old white youth named Larry Sims fired the gun (given to him by another youth named Michael Farley) at Ware, who was sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by his brother. Sims and Farley had been riding home from an anti-integration rally which had denounced the church bombing. When he spotted Ware and his brother, Sims fired twice, reportedly with his eyes closed. (Sims and Farley were later convicted of second-degree manslaughter, although the judge suspended their sentences and imposed two years’ probation upon each youth.)

I’d like to look back at this history and see it as little more than an unfortunate part of our past. But then I see stuff like this on a constant basis:

A St. Louis judge on Friday found former police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of black motorist Anthony Lamar Smith.

“This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson wrote in his ruling.

I didn’t sit in the courtroom and hear all the evidence in this case. I do know that the officer stated that he was going to kill the motorist and then did in fact kill him. I know that there is footage that doesn’t show the gun that was recovered, and that the gun had the officer’s DNA on it and not the DNA of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Without committing one way or the other in this particular case, I just see a lot of acquittals in cases where there seems like there should be a conviction. I see a lot of decisions not to prosecute when it seems like there’s a strong case. And I see a lot of ticky-tack penalties and sanctions meted out for behavior that seems like it should warrant severe punishment.

I don’t know how you give someone two years probation for shooting and killing a 13-year-old boy while he’s sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by his brother. But I also don’t know how you say it’s okay to choke and kill a grown man for selling cigarettes on the street.

Things have not improved enough in the fifty-four years since the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. And that’s why we should all take a moment today to remember that tragedy.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at