James Byrd Jr.’s heartless lynching: 20 years later

AUTODIDACT 17 | 7/12/2018, 1:51 p.m.

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of one of the most heinous hate crimes committed in recent memory: the lynching of a Black man by three Caucasian males in rural Jasper, Texas. James Byrd Jr.’s unprovoked murder made national news headlines, painfully reminding many of America’s racist tyranny.

“It is something we have to live with the rest of our lives,” said Walter Diggles, a Black civic leader and executive-director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments. “It is similar to Dallas, when people think of the JFK assassination, or Memphis, when people think of Martin Luther King’s murder.”

During the early morning of June 7, 1998, in the small timber town of Jasper, in East Texas, Byrd was offered a ride by Lawrence Russell Brewer, ring leader John William King and Shawn Allen Berry, who reports state knew Byrd. Somewhere along the way, the three savagely beat Byrd, chained his ankles to the back of Berry’s pickup truck, dragging him down 3 miles of Huff Creek Road, causing his body to dismember.

Reportedly, Byrd was “conscious during most of the harrowing ordeal, finally dying by way of a decapitation after his body hit a culvert in the road.”

His remains were strewn along the road, having disintegrated into more that 75 pieces, with his right arm and head being found approximately 1 mile from what was left of his torso.

The trio of ex-cons were promptly arrested and separately charged with capital murder.

During trial, it was revealed that Byrd, 49, was murdered “simply because he was Black”; that Berry, 23, and King, 23, were childhood friends; and King and Brewer, 31, had initially met in prison and were part of a white supremacy group. The latter two received death-sentences, with Brewer being executed September 21, 2011, by lethal injection and King remaining on death row. Just before being put to death, Brewer said he “felt no remorse” and “would do it all over again.”

Berry, sentenced to life, was miraculously spared after “prosecutors determined that he was not a racist.”

Throughout the ordeal, courageous Dr. Khalid Abdul-Muhammad led the New Black Panthers through Jasper responding to white supremacist groups, prompting James Byrd Sr. to exclaim, “We are not hating; we are hurting.”

“Afterward, people came together, worked together and healed together,” recalled then-mayor R.C. Horn, who is African-American. “Some people were not even aware of what was going on inside themselves, but after it happened, everyone took a look at themselves to see what was inside.”

Byrd’s family created the James Byrd Jr. Memorial Park, and established the James Byrd Jr. Foundation for Racial Healing, which “conducts diversity workshops, awards scholarships and helped win passage of a hate crime bill in Texas.”

Younger sister, Betty Byrd-Boatner, said, “When you do things that hurt someone else, you need to remember that that person is someone’s child. If it was your family, your brother, your sister, how would you handle it?”

Byrd’s death inspired the 2009 Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama.

His family urge people to always remember James Byrd Jr.