Never Forget: The 1998 Savage Lynching Of James Byrd Jr.

james-byrd

On June 7, 1998, a Black man in Jasper, TX was ‘lynched by dragging’ because he accepted a ride from three white men, one of whom he had known.

James Byrd, Jr. was a 49-year-old father of one child, who was brutally killed after accepting a ride from Shawn Berry, a white male he had known from their small town. In the pick-up truck with Berry were two of his friends, Lawrence Brewer and John King. The three men had agreed to give James a ride to his house but instead they drove him to a desolate area and began to assault him. The three men, of which two were known to be white supremacists, savagely started beating James and then urinated on him. After that, they used a chain to bound his ankles and attached the other end of the chain to the back of their truck. James, who was very much conscious throughout this whole ordeal, was dragged behind the truck for almost THREE miles.

According to the autopsy, James was dragged on his back for over 1.5 miles and fought to keep his head up, so that it wasn’t hitting the pavement. He wasn’t killed until his head and right-arm were severed from the rest of his body after hitting a drainage ditch. After stopping to see what occured with James’ body hitting the ditch, the three perpetrators continued dragging the mutilated body for over an additional mile. They finally decided to stop and dump the remains of James’ body in front of the cemetery of a Black church. After callously dumping the body, the three continued with their day by going to a barbecue.

The following day when his remains were discovered, the police found 81 different locations with fragments of James’ body; along the route of this horrific lynching. When it was confirmed that Brewer and King had substantiated ties to white supremacists groups, the trio were charged with murder as a hate crime. Brewer and King were tried and convicted, and were both sentenced to receive the death penalty. On September 21, 2011, Brewer was put to death by lethal injection and King’s case is still in the appeals process. Shawn Berry was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the grusome crime. Prior to his execution, Brewer reveled in the crime he committed and went so far as to say, “Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history. Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!”

James Byrd’s only child, Ross Byrd was able to show resilience after his father’s death by being a member of the group, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. The organization’s mission is to advocate for ending and replacing the death penalty. Ross had petition to have the killers of his father be spared the death penalty.

In honoring James Byrd’s life, President Obama signed into law, the ‘Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act’ on October 28, 2009. The law further enhanced the original hate-crime legislation that was originally passed in 1969 by getting rid of the stipulation that a person must be taking part in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school, to be protected. And it also gave federal authorities more leverage in pursuing hate crimes investigations, if local authorities choose not to pursue criminal charges in a case that was clearly a hate-crime.

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