The Murder of James Byrd

Essay by SVSUEDUUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, October 2008

download word file, 6 pages 3.0

The first article, Texas Jury Picks Death Sentence In Fatal Dragging of a Black Man, is about the murder of James Byrd, a black man from Jasper, Texas, by a white man, John William King. The article describes the crime, the attitude of the murderer and the decision of the death penalty by the jury.

John King was an remorseless murderer whose sole purpose for taking another man’s life was the color of his skin. He wanted to start his own branch of a racist organization called Confederate Knights of America in Jasper, Texas. On June 7th, 1998 King picked up an intoxicated Byrd and saw an opportunity to gain respect and members to his fledgling organization by murdering this man in cold blood. He contacted two of his friends who obviously are as sick and delusional as Mr. King and they beat James Byrd and then chained him to the back of the truck.

They proceeded to drag the victim for three miles most of which he was alive for until his body slammed into a culvert and he finally died.

The jury had to decide whether or not to spare the life of this man or sentence him to death. There two options were life in prison in which he could leave via parole in 40 years, or death by legal injection. The jury picked the latter even thought one juror was quoted as saying: “When I first came here, I kept looking at him, how young and handsome he is. I have a son the same age (Texas Jury Picks Death Sentence In Fatal Dragging of a Black Man). I wanted to find something to save him.” Even though it is disturbing that the murderers good looks could factor in the jury’s decision in the end the made the right decision according to the prosecutor.

Not even the killer’s father could help his son who was emotionless throughout the trial and even fired off expletives at the victims parents. The other two involved will face trial relating to this crime. The defense claimed that he was this way because of the conditions of the Texas prison system during a previous stay and he was not a threat to society. But in the end he was sentenced to lethal injection and a shattered community was left to deal with their own issues regarding race.

Aftershocks of this trial were felt across the country not only in Texas. A disk jockey in Washington was fired after a racist and insensitive statement. The statement referring to lyrics of a song by an African-American artist was: “no wonder people drag them behind trucks” (Texas Jury Picks Death Sentence In Fatal Dragging of a Black Man).

Another senseless murder was committed in a small Alabama town. This one involved the murder of a gay man named Billy Jack Gaither. Apparently not many people knew he was gay but the two men that killed him did.

They claimed that Billy Jack came on to one of them and this murder was in retaliation to that. The two men had planned the attack for at least two weeks. The three men went out the night of February 19th in Billy Jack’s car (Hate Against Gays and Lesbians can Lead to Murder and Suicide). Charles Butler and Steven Mullins proceeded to stuff the victim in the trunk of his car. Then they went to a remote location and killed him with the handle of an ax. If that is not horrific enough they then burnt his body along with junk tires.

Billy Jack was said to have led a very quiet life. Very few people knew that he was gay and those who did know said he never made it an issue. So this man was murdered simply because of his sexual preference. This murder fueled the need for legislation stating that crimes against someone due to their sexuality are hate crimes.

In another article about the killing of Mathew Shepard speaks about what the defense may do. In defense of the murder, Mr. Henderson the defense may use “gay panic” as a defense. Since the murder of a homosexual simply for that fact is not a hate crime this type of defense can be used. The murderer in letters written to his friends states that he “flipped out” when Shepard came on to him and that is why he pistol whipped him.

Silent Night: The Violence of Homophobia, is an article written by a homosexual person regarding the state of this country and its tolerance; or lack their of concerning people with a different sexual preference. The writer was at a vigil for the recently slain Mathew Shepard and other victims of hate crime due to their sexual preference. A week after the vigil for Mr. Shepard a gay and lesbian themed hall was vandalized. The writer feels disturbed and shocked by the level of anti-gay activity in our society.

Violence towards homosexuals isn’t limited to the small towns in America, it is all over. The writer partly blames Ronald Reagan and his enabling of right-wing fundamentalist Christian organizations to become such an important part of politics. This is obviously a foreshadowing of George Bush’s allegiance towards the same fundamentalist groups. Reagan allowed these fundamentalists to gain power and in turn to empower their hatred of anything non-Christian which is exactly what a homosexual individual is, in their eyes (Silent Night: The Violence of Homophobia).

Not only is their extreme religious fervor regarding gays but there is a lot of money supporting these fundamentalist views. According to the article for every dollar spent supporting gay rights there are eight going to fund the denigration of gays.

The write asserts that actions like these should be met with even more strength and dedication to reverse ideas that gays and lesbians are any different than heterosexuals. The paranoia about being a homosexual has many to lead a secret life and in the writers opinion this does not help. But the level of violence against homosexuals is a strong deterrent to people wanting to express their true feelings.

The article, Are Hate Crime Laws Necessary states that hate-crime laws were non-existent in the Mathew Shepard case yet justice was served. So the laws are not needed because they would make everything more complicated. They would create a system were one life is worth more than the life of someone else.

The final article is about President Clinton’s attempt to expand the definition of what a hate crime is to include crimes regarding sexual orientation, sex, or disability. The president stated that we should set an example for the world. He also stated that educational; programs will be implemented in order for tolerance to be learned at an early age(Clinton: Hate crimes bill 'profoundly important) The president’s first attempt to expand the definition did not pass but he was hoping the sentencing of Mr. Shepard’s murderer may swing some votes.

However Robert Knight disagreed with the president. He thought it was an attempt to advance the presidents “homosexual agenda.” He thought it would make certain lives worth more than others (Are Hate Crime Laws Necessary).

A hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice against a social group. The crime is not personal; it is one of a deep seeded hatred of a whole group of people. In the articles above the crimes were due to the criminal hating an aspect of the victims’ life, not hating the actual victim. That is the difference between the two. Neither is worse then the other but hate crimes can be directly attributed to ignorance and a lack of understanding. That is the only explanation for someone being murdered due to their skin color, or their sexual preference.

The articles explained above clearly show that hate crimes are different from regular crimes. The hate the murders have is a part of them, it is them whereas other crimes the rage is developed because of certain incident. The criminals not only despise their victims but every one else like them.

The articles above exhibit the need for hate crime legislation. Simply so someone cannot justify a murder on the basis of “gay panic.” These crimes deserve to be treated different because they are different. Hate crimes set this country back and new legislation will help stop some hate crimes.

Work Cited“Hate Against Gays and Lesbians can Lead to Murder and Suicide,” Time June hate-against-gays-and-lesbians-matthew-sheppard-john-french.html“Texas Jury Picks Death Sentence In Fatal Dragging of a Black Man.” News Magazine January 1999“Silent Night: The Violence of Homophobia.” Open Democracy 2002“Are Hate Crime Laws Necessary” Newsweek May 2000“Clinton: Hate crimes bill 'profoundly important'” April 25,