Racism & Hate Crimes in America
Blacks were introduced to American soil during the 17th and 18th centuries via the triangular trade route, and were welcomed by whips, chains, shackles, and all the horrors of slavery. Slavery was legitimized by our government and continued for a few hundred years, taking a civil war and sixteen presidents before it was abolished. To this day, there is still much hatred between blacks and whites despite emancipation, desegregation, and integration; some would argue that the condition of African Americans in the United States is still one of a subservient nature. Federal law defines a hate crime as whenever a victim is attacked on the basis of his or her race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender; hate offenses are directed against members of a particular group simply because of their membership in that group (Levin 4). Last year, a black man was brutally murdered in east Texas by three young white males. There are over a hundred homicides committed every year, but the manner in which this life was taken and the apparent motive of his perpetrators leaves no doubt that this crime was one rooted in hate. In this brutal murder, the motivation is obvious and clear-cut, the bigotry so blatant that it virtually hits you in the face. James Byrd Jr.'s death is America's shame: another man tortured for no reason- other than the color of his skin. This essay will use the Byrd murder to explore the cause and effects of hate crimes, and attempt to draw meaning from it so that a tragedy like this will not happen again.
In the early morning of June 7, 1998, a black man was walking down a road in Jasper, Texas. James Byrd Jr. had just left a niece's bridal shower at his parents' house, and was trying to hitch a ride home. Three men drove by and the owner of the vehicle, Shawn Berry, offered Byrd a lift in the back of the pickup. Byrd, handicapped in one leg, didn't hesitate to accept the apparently kind gesture; little did he suspect his fate that was to follow. Angered, one of the passengers by the name of John King grabbed the wheel and drove to a dark deserted road outside of town. What happened thereafter undoubtedly has to be one of the most gruesome and horrifying crimes this country has seen since the day's slavery was legal. King and the final member of the trio, Lawrence Brewer, got out of the truck and began beating and kicking Byrd until he was nearly unconscious. Afterward, they chained him by his ankles to the back of the truck and dragged him so violently down the winding asphalt road, tearing off his head and right arm from his body. Police found Byrd's dentures torn from his mouth, lying a few hundred yards down the road from the rest of his body. Blood smeared a trail over a mile long. Research strongly suggests that hate crimes reported to the police have certain characteristics that distinguish them from other types of offenses. First, hate crimes tend to be excessively brutal; the hatred in such crimes is expressed when force is exercised beyond what is necessary to subdue victims or make them comply. Classifying the murder of James Byrd as "brutal" is definitely an understatement. A second characteristic of hate crimes is that they are often senseless or irrational crimes perpetrated at random on strangers. Finding a random black man walking down the road late at night and dragging him to death is not a common circumstance. Another characteristic of hate crimes is that they are usually perpetrated by multiple offenders; it is a group crime frequently carried out by young perpetrators operating together for the purpose of attacking the members of another group (Levin 16). The murder of James Byrd Jr. satisfies these characteristics, and unmistakably qualifies as a hate crime. Byrd's hometown of Jasper is a racially mixed town of 8,000 people located in a rural section of Texas; a Southern town with built in biases, but not racist. Despite of the...
Cited: Bloodshed. New York: Plenum, 1993.
and Reactionary Violence. Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995.
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