Example Of An Analysis Of A Hate Crime Essay
Hate crimes have become more prevalent in society with the rise in societal divisions among race, religions, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. The culture and sign of the times in which we live perhaps perpetrated this. But another viable force; the rise of social media, has given everyone a voice to share thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. These factors often create division and tension between opposing sides. People have the ability to document delinquent activity, crime, and hatred as it is occurring like never before. A simple video shot by an iPhone and uploaded to social media can quickly become the mouthpiece for hatred and in less than 24 hours is a major news story. This has never been more apparent than in the past few years where the need to expose hatred and crimes associated with it are becoming more the norm than the exception. This is very telling as to the level of hatred that dwells among society, leading to a rise in hate crimes and society becomes more diverse. This paper will focus on the brutal kidnapping and murder of James Byrd, TX, that occurred in 1998 in Jasper, TX; that was labeled as one of the most heinous hate crimes in recent American history.
One of the widely reported hate crimes occurred in the United States on June 7, 1998, and involved the brutal killing of African-American, James Byrd (Redding, 1998). Three white men who have been labeled white supremacists killed him in Jasper, TX. The three, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King, plotted to kidnap and murder Byrd. Berry and Byrd were acquaintances. On that fateful evening, Byrd was walking home and Berry stopped to offer him a ride (Rosenblatt, 2013). Byrd willingly accepted. Brewer and King were no strangers as they had spent time in and out of prison and were part of white supremacist groups that instigated the set up. Unbeknownst to Byrd, Brewer and King were along for the ride. From there what ensued was beyond comprehension to anyone with a conscious. The trio tortured Byrd before tying him to the back of the pickup and dragging his body for over three miles. It has been reported that Byrd remained conscious for most of the ordeal until he struck a culvert, which immediately severed his head and arm. He was dragged for another mile before his body was disposed at an African-American cemetery in Jasper (Rosenblatt, 2013). According to police reports, Byrd’s remains were found in eighty-one different locations along the deadly route (Rosenblatt, 2013). A woman reported to police that Byrd’s head and arm were found in the ditch in front of her home (Redding, 1998).
The following day when news broke of Byrd’s heinous abduction and murder, the nation was stunned by the graphic nature of the crime. For that moment in time, Americans were reminded of the past when lynchings and torture were the result of white-on-black brutality. The details of the crime were like that out of a violent movie. Had we not evolved as a nation from the days in the 1960’s when prejudice and inequality were the order of the day? If these crimes were any indication, it would seem we had not come very far at all.
Byrd’s death has taken its toll on the small Jasper community where it occurred; even years after it occurred. Even the mortician who prepared Byrd’s body for burial remarked that this death had impacted him like no other. He pondered how one person could do this to another (Redding, 1998). This has become the question in the minds of many. Hate crimes such as this should not have occurred in 1998. Byrd’s brutal murder brought to light the reality that hate crimes are still very much a part of society. It also made many realize that being complacent with regard to racism, inequality, and prejudice could not continue.
Being a community of approximately 8,000 residents, this crime does not seem to belong in the ordinarily quaint little town (Redding, 1998). Jasper County’s sheriff, Billy Rowles, who is white, called Byrd’s murder an isolated incident; downplaying the seriousness of the crime as being less that what it actually was. If white residents were polled and honest in their responses, most would not want to trade places with the black residents, or any blacks for that matter. According to the 1990 Census, whites in Jasper County have higher incomes, better job opportunities, are successful home-owners and are better educated (Redding, 1998).
Brutal killings of African Americans have a rich history. In the southern states alone, between 1889 and 1930, over 3,000 blacks were the victims of lynching (Frederickson, 1999). Of that number, just under 500 were murdered in Texas alone. While lynchings are not new to the history of racial injustice, in 1998 when Byrd’s murder occurred, it seemed an abnormality. However, according to historian, Fitzhugh Brundage, lynchings are now divided into three categories: “white supremacist terrorism, private vendettas, and mass extra-legal executions” (Frederickson, 1999). Brundage classified Byrd’s murder as terrorism, because his murderers had no real justification for murdering him. In other words, they had nothing against him. Byrd was not guilty of any crime and had done nothing to deserve being brutally murdered.
As difficult as it is to understand how a brutal murder could occur, much less believe that hate crimes are still very much a reality among us, it must be explored as to how something like this can happen. Gordon Allport was a leading theorist in the study of prejudice and discrimination. He surmised that both are the by-products of ingroup-outgroup relations. Prejudice, in and of itself, occurs when an individual or group exhibits negative attitudes towards an outgroup. This can stem from a variety of reasons. Primarily it takes place when ingroups believe they are privileged over and above the outgroups. This bias stems from the premise “of groups in the context of conflict over scarce natural resources” (Brewer, 1999). When scarcity is present in an environment, groups tend to join together to fight those they are competing against. This age-old practice goes as far back as the beginning of time. Man has always been in direct conflict with others for one reason or another. There is the inherent need to jockey for position in environments where social classes dictate the landscape. The higher on the social class scale one is, the more likely they will become part of a dominant group (ingroup) that will have an advantage over those in outgroups (Brewer,1999).
If that is to be believed, then Byrd’s brutal murder was indicative of three white men who believed they were entitled to live in the community of Jasper County without having African Americans dwelling among them. Perhaps their rationale for murdering Byrd was finishing what their ancestors had started centuries before.
As we have seen many times over since Byrd’s death in 1998, these sort of hate crimes still dominate the news. Countless instances still pervade society and beg its citizens to do something to protect the masses regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Racial tensions may be vastly improved over the 1960’s tumultuous times, but no doubt they still exist (Brewer, 1999). If there are any improvements over the past, it is that perpetrators are now apprehended and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. While this has not eradicated racial injustice or hate crimes, it has proven that tolerance of hate crimes is unacceptable. It is a start but there is much more ground to be covered. Byrd’s brutal murder demanded attention to this issue and in doing so, has changed the way hate crime are perceived and dealt with.
There is no room in society for hatred of any kind. We each may look, think and act differently, but we are all the same. We all have the same desire to love and be loved. Prejudice, inequality, and discrimination prevents us from being able to do either. These things serve as a barrier and close us off to others and close our minds with preconceived notions that have no place within. We have learned to look for differences while society screams for equality. It all begins and ends with us.
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Rosenblatt, Josh. "Long Road Out of Jasper: A Documentary Chronicles James Byrd Jr.'s Life and Tragic Death - The Texas Observer." The Texas Observer. 25 July 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.texasobserver.org/long-road-out-of-jasper/>.