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Some of the Causes and Effects of Hate Crimes

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Some of the Causes and Effects of Hate Crimes

Blacks were introduced to the North America during the 17th and 18th centuries through the triangular trade route, and were welcomed by chains, ropes, and all the horrors of slavery. Slavery was legalized by the US government and continued for a few hundred years, taking a civil war and sixteen presidents before it was forbidden. Even today, there is still much hatred between blacks and whites despite 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 made against members of a particular group simply because of their membership in that group (Levin 4). In 1998 an African-American was brutally murdered in Texas. There are over a hundred homicides committed every year, but the manner in which this life was taken and the apparent motive of his executers leaves no doubt that this crime was filled with hate. In this brutal murder, the motivation is obvious and clear, the explanation is so simple 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. I 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 by 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. A car drove by and the owner of the vehicle, Shawn Berry, offered Byrd a lift in the back of the pickup. Byrd, jumped in one leg, didn't hesitate to accept the actually kind sign; 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 certainly has to be one of the most nasty 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 almost 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 painted a trail over a mile long.

Research strongly suggests that hate crimes reported to the police have certain characteristics that differentiate them from other types of offenses. First, hate crimes tend to be extremely brutal; the hatred in such crimes is expressed when force is exercised ahead of 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 pointless or illogical crimes made on random 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 made by a group of offenders; it is a group crime frequently carried out by young criminals 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 country section of Texas; a Southern town with built in biases, but not racist. Despite of the nature of Byrd's murder, you cannot judge a society because of the actions of a few. According to the Mayor of Jasper, there had been no unusual racial problems in the town in the past (Cropper A16). "The kind of racial problems we had here were the kinds of things where you wouldn't get the promotion or the right jobs," said Byrd's sister Mary Verrett. "In all the time I grew up, there was never any outright bigotry, and none of us were afraid to walk the street. In fact, you could say we were pretty happy." Many people seemed to believe the crime did not reflect a deeper problem.

On the other hand, Gary Bledsoe, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the eastern part of Texas surrounding Jasper has been considered a "problem area and a hotbed of Klan activity for years." Jasper lies 55 miles north of the town of Vidor, where a Klan group in 1993 tried to stop the integration of an all-white housing development, threatening the first black residents as teen-agers dressed in sheets confronted black newcomers (Cropper A16). Certainly, the racist environment that Byrd's killers were forced to grow up in contributed greatly to their intolerant ideology.

Reporters say Byrd's killers were three anxious men riding and drinking on a Saturday night. John William King, 23, was the trio's unofficial leader, a dirty convicted burglar whose prison nickname was "Possum." Shawn Allen Berry, also 23, was King's former high school classmate and partner in crime. Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, had been addicted to cocaine for seven years, released on condition he be treated for an unnamed mental illness. All three had tattoos or personal items with the unique markings of a white supremacist (Pressley A1). For all of his personal problems- alcoholism, minor robberies, an inability to hold a job- James Byrd was well liked and had never been involved in any kind of racial incident. What then set the three Jasper men off and led them to commit a crime so violently horrible? It may have been a case of unfortunate circumstances, too much to drink, nothing to do, influence of Klan propaganda, a lone black man on a dark street giving shape to all the thoughts the men had absorbed in prison (Pressley A9). Without a doubt, these men were not changed into racists overnight.

In his book, Hate Crimes, Jack Levin suggests several factors that may cause one to commit a crime rooted in hate. Levin writes, "Learning to hate is almost as inescapable as breathing. The hate crime offender grows up in a culture that distinguishes certain people as righteous, while designating others as sleazy, immoral characters who deserve to be mistreated" (Levin 21). One cannot be cynical to think that we live in a society free of stereotypes. The three men who murdered James Byrd grew up in an environment that marked

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