Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas

( 7 )

Overview

On June 7, 1998, James Byrd Jr., a forty-nine-year-old black man, was walking home from a party when three white men in a pickup truck offered him a ride. They drove Byrd out to a lonely country road, tied him to a logging chain, and dragged him three miles to his death.

Joyce King, an award-winning journalist and native Texan, was assigned to cover the story, which drew international media headlines. In Hate Crime, she provides a chilling re-creation of the slaying and the ...

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Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas

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Overview

On June 7, 1998, James Byrd Jr., a forty-nine-year-old black man, was walking home from a party when three white men in a pickup truck offered him a ride. They drove Byrd out to a lonely country road, tied him to a logging chain, and dragged him three miles to his death.

Joyce King, an award-winning journalist and native Texan, was assigned to cover the story, which drew international media headlines. In Hate Crime, she provides a chilling re-creation of the slaying and the subsequent trials. But she also moves beyond the details of the case to provide insight into the minds of the murderers, and to investigate the Texas prison system in which they developed their virulent racism. King also explores how the town of Jasper, Texas, endured a tragedy that threatened to divide its residents. A first-rate work of reportage, Hate Crime is also a searing look at how race continues to shape life in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A gripping account of an unimaginably brutal murder . . . [and] a lesson in how to look racism in the eye and not blink.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“[A]chieves its greatest possible goal: setting the event in history as a disturbing record of continued American racism.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] remarkable balance of candor, clarity and feeling.” —Los Angeles Times

[S]hows readers a thriving subculture of hatred few of us will ever encounter.” —Austin American-Statesman

“[R]iveting. . . . Exceptional reporting takes the reader behind the headlines and through each aspect of this emotionally wrenching case.” —Arizona Daily Star

James Ellroy
A heartbreaking story of stupid hatred and the endless ramifications of one cruel and vicious act. This book mocks fatuous notions of closure. Joyce King eloquently demands that we subsume bigotry with respect and love. Her argument is angry, righteous, and tender.
Morris Dees
A Southern story of unbelievable cruelty and a passionate pursuit for justice. An important chapter in the American struggle for civil rights.
Tavis Smiley
A riveting journey behind the scenes of one of the most shocking crimes in modern history. King goes beyond the sound bites to craft a provocative book filled with revelations on race and the criminal justice system. This story will give you hope even as it breaks your heart, will make you think about how far America still has to go in the struggle for racial equality.
Publishers Weekly
When William King received the death penalty for the grisly murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Tex., he became the first white man in 150 years to be sent to that state's death row for killing a black man. Broadcast journalist King covered his trial and those of Russell Brewer and Shawn Berry, the two other young white men convicted of dragging Byrd behind a pickup truck on June 7, 1998. Suspecting that she's assigned the story only because she's black, King arrives in Jasper fearful and doubting her journalistic objectivity. The Louisiana native quickly confronts her own biases about the smalltown South, even as she becomes an "international commentator" on a crime that shocked the world. King reports the case from start to finish and deepens her chronicle by investigating King and Brewer's involvement in racist Texas prison gangs, creating a chilling portrait of racism's brutal breeding ground. But her efforts to tally the case's personal toll are less successful. The disjointed narrative provides very little insight into her character, and unskilled prose undercuts the telling. Particularly vexing are frequent dangling modifiers, such as one that turns a description of a bad tire into an accurate (if unintentional) assessment of the killers' characters: "Already beyond salvage, they decided the best insurance was a can of Fix-A-Flat." Though this account fares better as documentary than diary, King's ultimate rapprochement with the white authorities who deliver justice for Byrd rings true: "This case taught me what my own work on... racial tolerance had not. I was harboring my own insecurities about race and my own tendencies to stereotype. Recycling untruths simply made me more like the very people I avoided." (June 4) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What was possibly the most heinous crime of the last few decades unfolded on a Texas back road in 1998 when three young whites wrapped a chain around an African American man and dragged him to his death behind their truck. Until the dragging of James Byrd Jr. some of us were hopeful (or na ve) enough to think that we had seen an end to such virulent racism. African American radio reporter King covers each of the three trials that followed the atrocity. She does not offer much drama the identity of the perpetrators was apparent from the start or much insight into how such a crime could have happened. Certainly, alcohol played a part, as did the racially polarizing prison experience of two of the killers, but past that we get no real perspective on why this horrible event occurred. What King does present, in addition to straight reportage, is her perspective as an African American. She relates her personal experiences as a black in the South and discusses her reactions to the trials as well as to the white authorities who handled the case. Dina Temple-Raston's A Death in Texas focuses more on the politics and agendas of various segments of the small town. While King's book does not offer explanations, it does make a strong statement. Recommended for all public libraries. Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Solidly reported by a Dallas-based journalist, the grim tale of the notorious 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. and the ensuing legal and media drama. When three young white men dragged African-American Byrd to his death behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, the case outraged America for its savage brutality and unmistakable similarity to past southern race murders. Authorities in Jasper, an East Texas community with a black mayor, a white sheriff, and generally harmonious race relations, quickly arrested three suspects. John William King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry were known troublemakers, and the author, herself an African-American Texan, does a good job of tracing their backgrounds. King and Brewer had been strongly influenced by the white-supremacist culture in the state prison where they met; just as many 19th-century lynchings stemmed from sexual anxiety and rage linked to the South's dysfunctional social dynamics, this account implies that King's hatred of blacks was fueled by sexual abuse he had suffered while incarcerated. The hour-by-hour re-creation of the crime, its investigation, and the courtroom proceedings is also meticulous, showing overwhelmed local officials struggling to vindicate Jasper and see justice done under the glare of international press scrutiny. While the Byrd case recalled a type of crime that historically went unpunished, in this instance both the justice system and the wounded community responded with strong condemnation, comforting the afflicted and punishing those responsible. (King and Brewer received death sentences; Berry got life.) This makes for compelling reading, although the author's reportorial skills are not matched by her prose.Repetition, clunky or florid sentences, and her disorienting habit of switching abruptly from past to present tense mar an important book that would have benefited from tighter editing. Despite some stylistic shortcomings, a definitive account of the crime that came to represent much of what was both encouraging and discouraging about race relations in America at the end of the 20th century.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385721950
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/2/2003
  • Edition description: First Anchor Books Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 225
  • Sales rank: 969,517
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.93 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

A former reporter and anchor for a CBS radio affiliate, Joyce King is an award-winning twenty-year broadcast veteran. She also writes guest columns and opinion pieces for USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Dallas Morning News. This is her first book. She lives in Dallas.
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Read an Excerpt

One

Jasper is extremely small, a typical East Texas bedroom community. Home to nearly 8,000 people, it is the county seat, a proud distinction for any Texas town. Ask some residents and they'll tell you the city of Jasper is historically as well as geographically too near the likes of Vidor, Texas, a defiant Klan stronghold about fifty-five miles away. Folks who don't belong in Vidor, particularly black folks, steer clear of it. Listen to a few others and Jasper is a bastion of racial equality, a prosperous and fair place to raise kids, to set a good example.

Enlightened people who live within Jasper's city limits point to its obvious differences--their mayor, R. C. Horn, is black; prominent leaders of both races get along and work well together; and the census shows that the town itself is roughly made up of equal parts: Though it fluctuates, Jasper is approximately 45 percent African-American and about 48 percent Anglo, with most of the remaining percentage Hispanic.

It is a pretty place, strikingly clean, contemporary, but still connected to timeless traditions. Jasper has a rich history and attracts annual tourists for hugely profitable bass-fishing tournaments. A sprinkling of brand-name chain hotels, as well as quaint little lodging houses, lots of churches, tasty homemade food, and friendly people give Jasper a reputation for being a cut above most East Texas towns. It even has what proud residents jokingly call "the Mall," its huge twenty-four-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, the biggest deal in town.

That the slow pace in Jasper does not hold much interest for its young people is something with which town leaders constantly struggle. There are five schools in the Jasper Independent School District, only one of them a high school. Teens who graduate from the high school usually head for higher academic ground or better-paying jobs at plants in larger Texas cities, like Beaumont or Port Arthur. A few others make the short commute to the southern end of the county to work at plants like the large paper mill in Evadale. Others make a decent living at oil refineries, mostly next door in Louisiana. Those who stay behind don't have many options, unless a relative owns a lumber mill. A lot of the other jobs pay only the minimum wage, or slightly better.

Routines reserved for weekdays--school, church events, and work--take place in a highly public fashion, in the open for all to participate in and judge. For the majority, the medium gait of life in Jasper is perfect--not too fast, not too slow. Residents take care of business and look out for each other. They do so without all the big-city hassles, without the rush and crush of traffic nightmares and rude citified behavior. Come six o'clock Friday night, things slow to a crawl; local streets empty as people rest and change their body clocks to reflect weekend time. By Saturday, many make the seventy-mile trek to Beaumont or twice that distance to faraway Houston, to break the monotony of Bud long necks, plate-sized chicken-fried steaks, and two- and three-star movies at the Twin Cinema. Given that there is little to do in Jasper on the weekend, others routinely grab Burger King specials or pack up their own food for picnic get-togethers at nearby Martin Dies Jr. State Park. Dozens more hitch up the boat or Jet Skis and head for Steinhagen Lake, Toledo Bend, or Sam Rayburn Reservoir, a beautiful body of water named after the native son who proudly served as one of the nation's most colorful Speakers of the House of Representatives and who is widely remembered for his dogged insistence that his colleagues vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Others, shunning big-city lights and nearby tourist attractions, love the quiet serenity and beauty of Jasper.

Like any small town, Jasper has its share of hotheads and lawbreakers, but for the most part, decent citizens want good, clean fun. Without any large nightclubs, a favorite Jasper pastime is an old-fashioned, blue-light house party with good music and close friends. Attendees can drink as much as they want in the privacy of someone's home and avoid the weekend crackdown on public alcohol consumption. Texas peace officers are rare but firm upholders of the state's hard-to-enforce open-container law: Don't get caught driving while taking a swig. Residents make sure, day or night, that whatever they are drinking behind the wheel in a brown paper bag is a Coke or cream soda.

Yet, liquor is plentiful on the outskirts of Jasper, a dry community located within a very wet county of more than 30,000 people. Many don't think it's a problem to serve alcohol at a private, invitation-only house party, even if they do live in a dry town. Some residents have even been known to bootleg--make their own barrel whiskey--an illegal activity that does not sit well with law-abiding neighbors. Jasper's pristine location in the Deep South Bible Belt provokes more than a few upright Christians to morally chastise their neighbors. One anonymous citizen posed the provocative question "If Jasper's really a dry town and folks can't buy liquor here, why are there so many alcoholics?"

On Saturday night, June 6, 1998, Jimmie Mays had the perfect reason to have one of those old-fashioned parties at his house. Besides his son's birthday, it was his twentieth wedding anniversary. James Byrd, Jr., a forty-nine year old unemployed, disabled former vacuum salesman, was among the guests who showed up at the large gray and white trailer home. Byrd was popular in Jasper, well known for his charisma and beautiful singing voice. In and out of minor legal scrapes since high school, Byrd was often described by family and friends as a man who never hurt anyone but himself. The divorced father of three was proud of his deserved reputation as a lover of life but equally ashamed of a very real drinking problem that sometimes left him lonely and alone.

Besides Byrd, more than forty people turned out to eat good food, drink good whiskey, sing, dance, and play cards and dominoes. At the end of a long week, many in the crowd were simply glad to be among friends and grateful that someone was in the mood to host a Saturday night house party. George "Billy" Mahathay was right in the thick of things.

Handsome, unmistakably a ladies' man, with curly jet-black hair and almond-colored eyes, Mahathay was something of a local fixture around town. The burly, friendly-looking owner of Billy's BBQ couldn't help but notice a slight difference in his boyhood friend. "Byrd's not his usual self," Mahathay would later testify, "quiet, not singing and dancing like he normally does."

Everyone at the lively get-together laughed, talked, drank, and toasted Mays and his wife. The weather was a tad warm, but pleasantly bearable. By tough Texas standards, the Mays' house party was a great success, a savory musical gumbo of blues, soul, hip-hop, jazz--a little something for everyone. Byrd half-enjoyed the music and wrestled with distant thoughts, maybe a personal dilemma. He seemed distracted but continued to drink and joke around. For whatever reason, Byrd did not belt out the tunes he was famous for.

Like a few others, Mahathay had had a bit too much to drink, but it was Saturday night and he was among friends. As the festive anniversary party came to a close, he chose a more sober friend, Samuel Williams, to give him a ride home. He smiled at the host and bid the Mays family goodnight.

The neat trailer emptied as the party ended. Williams and Mahathay left sometime between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m. on Sunday, June 7. It wasn't too far to Mahathay's house, almost around the corner from Jimmie Mays, but Mahathay was glad for the ride.

Right near Martin Luther King Boulevard, the tipsy passenger noticed James Byrd, Jr., on Bowie Street, near Mahathay's house. The men did not stop to give Byrd a ride; they believed he could make it on his own, as he had so many times before. Though Byrd owned an old car, one that had been out of commission a whole month, anyone who knew Byrd also knew that he was not afraid to walk anywhere in town. It was not uncommon for black people to walk in Jasper. Or white people, for that matter. Public transportation was almost nonexistent and there was no bus line or major taxi service. People paid small sums, if they had it, for neighbors and relatives to give them rides to necessary places. Or, they just walked.

When Billy Mahathay entered his residence, he was so sure Byrd could make it home that he never looked back. Byrd zigzagged down the road in a drunken stupor, taking step after wide step, a route he almost knew blindfolded, one that usually got him home in pitch-black darkness.

At about the same time the fun ended at the Mays home, a private party also wrapped up across town at the Timbers Apartments, upstairs in number 214, a tiny rented space on West Gibson Street, the main drag in Jasper.

Twenty-one-year-old Keisha Adkins was there, along with her former boyfriend, twenty-three-year-old John William King, a handsome local with brown hair and brown eyes, and a justified reputation as the hotheaded boy next door who can turn abruptly nasty.

Earlier in the evening, Adkins had run into King at the local Wal-Mart. Out of jail only a few months, the persuasive talker extended an invitation to his apartment. Flattered by renewed attention from King, Adkins examined his 5-foot-8-inch frame and saw that King had put on a little weight. Still, he looked good to Adkins as she mulled over the tempting proposition.

At about 10:30 p.m., shy, soft-spoken Keisha Adkins, a pale brunette, firmly knocked on King's door. The Timbers was a plain apartment complex; the wood-planked stairs and a small landing were barely large enough for two people.

Adkins discovered that King was not alone. Jailhouse buddy Lawrence Russell Brewer, a thirty-one-year-old convict from Sulphur Springs, Texas, had arrived in town only days before and was staying with King. Adkins knew Brewer was new to Jasper, and she looked him over and noted his physical attributes: He was small in stature, about 5 feet 6, 145 pounds, dark hair, and beady eyes. Remarkably muscular, he was a tough little man who looked as if he could take care of himself.

King and Brewer, a mutual admiration society of misfits, celebrated their victorious reunion, free men, at the same time, out in the world together. They started to drink cold Bud Lights and Coors Lights way before Adkins arrived. King playfully took off his shirt, another Saturday night ritual in June that in some neighborhoods went hand in hand with beer, white boys, and the pursuit of babes.

Not easily intimidated, Adkins studied King's drastically changed body--slightly potbellied and riddled with menacing tattoos. Adkins would later testify they did not offend her. The silly depiction of cartoon character Woody Woodpecker wearing a Klan robe was mildly humorous--if a person liked racist jokes. King's other tattoos were not so comical. One in particular, of a hanging black man, was neither a joke nor a cartoon. King did not openly discuss his radical views on race with Adkins, nor did he hide them. Tattooed arms, back, and torso spoke volumes. There was even a drawing of the Disney character Tinkerbell, located on King's genitals. It was the one tattoo King was ready to show Adkins privately.

While the ex-lovers renewed their relationship in the master bedroom, Brewer kept busy with loud music and the phone. He was on the lookout for King's current girlfriend. Brewer couldn't be happy that his role was relegated to watchdog, but that did not stop him from consuming more beer--beer the two convicted burglars had stolen earlier. Without money, there was not much else to do in Jasper on a Saturday night.

Kylie Greeney, King's very pregnant girlfriend, showed up at the front door. She banged on the door and forcefully demanded to be let in. While Adkins and King were together, just a few feet away, Brewer was left with strict orders not to let in the future mother of King's child. More afraid of King than of his girlfriend, Brewer faithfully guarded the front door. Upset and frustrated, Greeney finally gave up and stomped back down the steps and out of the complex.

Sometime after midnight, King's twenty-three-year-old roommate, Shawn Allen Berry, showed up. Berry, the only one of the three friends who held a regular job, had finished up work as manager of the Twin Cinema, locked the movie theater for the night, and returned to the one-bedroom apartment.

Highly regarded as someone who could hold his own in a fight, Berry always carried a sharp, straight blade. Though he was the shortest of the three friends--just 5 feet 5, 160 pounds--Berry earned respect as a scrappy young man, one with dependable transportation, good looks, and a well-documented adventurous spirit. He was more personable than King or Brewer, and had adequate social skills and a number of hobbies, including bull riding. Berry lived for the end of each hard week. He couldn't wait to grab a cold beer to let off a little Saturday night steam. As usual, Shawn Berry was ready to roll.

Before June 6, King and Adkins had talked only by phone; they were excited to see one another. Oblivious to the painfully small apartment and extra companions, any potential discomfort or embarrassment wasn't apparent when they emerged from King's bedroom. Adkins hadn't seen her old boyfriend in two long years.

King walked Adkins to her car. His impatient running buddies, eager to leave, brainstormed ideas on how to spend Saturday night in Jasper. Brewer wanted to try and find a girl who had earlier invited them to a party, where they might meet more girls. Berry, whose vehicle they rode around in, was restless, ready to go with the flow. But all did not go according to plan. Adkins was the only female the trio would get to see that Saturday night. Unfortunately for them, her presence at the Timbers Apartments helped to establish a crucial time line.

When all four walked out of King's apartment and concluded the quarantined party, Adkins believed the time was about 1:45 a.m., give or take a few minutes, on Sunday. Adkins got into her car, saw the three men climb into Berry's ashy-gray step-side pickup. She later testified as to the seat assignments, "Shawn is driving, Russell sits in the middle and Bill is on the right side."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

A Q&A with Joyce King, author of Hate Crime

Q. HATE CRIME tells the horrific, yet captivating story of the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998. Tell me what has changed over the last 4 years since this crime took place?

A. This question has answers on several levels. First, in Jasper itself, I believe a hard lesson has been learned. A lot of residents thought such an idyllic little community could never have provided the location for such an unspeakable crime. They thought race relations were okay, but discovered a lot of people are still consumed by the past.

Second, at the state level, the Byrd murder was a catalyst of sorts to reignite a much-avoided discussion on hate-crime legislation. Reborn as The James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, signed the bill into law in May 2001. That's a huge change, especially when you consider his predecessor, George W. Bush, refused to support the measure as it was written. It took six years to push this legislation through. I believe this horrible crime, and the justice served afterward, promoted more positive racial dialogue that made it a little easier to get the conservative support necessary to win its passage.

And finally, on a national and international level, our world has changed dramatically in the last four years, particularly in the past year. Sadly, Americans are learning, as other world citizens understand, that hatred is powerful. Whether it is hatred for a man because his skin color is different, or, hatred of a nation because viewpoints are not the same, the outcome can be painfully similar: Hatred hurts all.


Q. Being fromthe south, you know firsthand what the racial climate is like. Have things changed for the better or for the worse since the crime was committed? Since the trial?

A.
Since the June '98 dragging, some things feel as if they're never going to change. Racial progress can sometimes produce a Catch-22 atmosphere–with the remarkable progress of the Civil Rights Movement, and the inclusion of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday as testamonials. But there is also that undercurrent of "unfinished business" that will require an honest dialogue. I believe this national communication might render blacks and whites more kin than is comfortable. Since the last trial, I think the justice delivered in this case may have fueled an ever-present hope that it's not too late to go back and provide closure in cases, (because of the explosive timeframe) justice was absent. Certainly, things are better today, but we all have a long way to go. Blacks and whites are in a marriage, that God, in a humor constantly challenged, has forever bound together. No manmade power can separate us.


Q. What could you tell us about meeting the 3 offenders face-to-face?

A. Perhaps the most chilling vis-a-vis encounters with the accused occurred the first time I saw John William King being escorted, shackled across the courthouse lawn. Nothing had prepared me for such a polite-looking hatred. Day after day in the three separate trials of King, Brewer, and Berry, the most difficult thing was hearing gruesome testimony and being able to reach out and touch those responsible. I was told not to even bother trying to get a jailhouse interview with King since he'd never subject himself to answer questions "from a black woman." People were always asking me about the mindset of the trio, and what made them click. Those same people were always disappointed at the lack of depth, intelligence, and education the defendants possessed, or didn't. If these young men were such superior criminals, why were they captured less than 24 hours after the crime? There was no "mastermind" at work here. Beyond the three culprits, it was Shawn Berry's brother, Louis, who gave me my greatest insight into their beer-and-backroads lifestyle. In our one-hour chat, (as the jury deliberated his brother's guilt or innocence) I learned that Louis was very interchangeable with Shawn. They were one and the same.


Q. Tell me more about the insight Louis gave you.

A. Louis really told me some personal things about the clique of friends that included King, Brewer, Shawn, himself, Tommy Faulk, and a handful of others. They all had similar country-boy personalities–lived too hard, too fast, and liked drinking beer together. There wasn't a whole lot to do in Jasper on the weekends. Yet, Louis was also, as I say in book, "tragically poetic." There was something very sweet about him, but also something that might be a little dangerous.


Q. You describe what the George Beto Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice looks like as you drive up and go inside, you also describe the high security. Do you think the prison system is a major contributor to the events that led to the tragedy? What do you think can be done to change it?

A. I don't believe the prison system, per se, is a major contributor to the events that specifically led to June 7th. However, like several components in this case, it did play a role, just as another common denominator that link the three men. All were high school dropouts. Coincidence? I don't think so. But does prison need more improvements? Definitely. One change that would require little cash involves educating the public. In my research, I discovered that most people don't have a clue about life in prison and how it can shape racial attitudes. Some inmates are able to drop survivor beliefs adopted in prison once released. Others, like King and Brewer, never sucessfully let it go when they are deposited back into the "free world." We must be careful to not allow the prison system in this country to shoulder all the blame for the ongoing racial strife that exists, or the racist gangs that organize there, and are on the rise. Prison does not begin to explain, or account for racial crimes committed in the workplace, on college campuses, or at places of worship by people who have never been locked up! Everyone in prison, from warden to inmate, talked about a lack of respect. That's also the key in the free world as well.


Q. What made you think to place yourself, the narrator, in the story and were you worried that it wouldn't work?

A. Initially, I started writing with myself as the storyteller only, but all the passion in me was saying, "How can I possibly ignore the way I feel about this case and the impact it has had on me?" With that as a starting point, I was never afraid that it wouldn't work. I was, and am confident that when given their chance, the reading public will not only see themselves in the ordinary working person I am, but they will also be able to relate this experience to extraordinary circumstances we all face in life, and how we choose to rise to meet those challenges. I didn't happen to Jasper; it happened to me.


Q. What did you hope to accomplish by writing HATE CRIME?

A.
What I hoped to accomplish when I began this journey at the end of 1999, after the third trial, was to have world citizens, literally, walk a country mile in my shoes. To see this incredibly small town, nestled away in these thick woods, among a history of racial violence perpetrated, mostly, against black men. I wanted to accomplish the connection that blacks and whites have so much more in common, than not. At the same time, I didn't want to paint a rosy, all-is-racially-healed portrait that would've given the impression that racism in East Texas has been cured. Justice was never denied, nor delayed in this case, which must, somehow be viewed as a model for those larger cities that remain unsuccessful in the delivery of justice. I think this book accomplishes what I hoped–to give brave Jasperites who did take a stand vindication. After all, the town didn't drag James Byrd, Jr. Three young white men did.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    The author did an excellent job in detailing the trial of an horrific crime. My thoughts often drifted to the victim and his family.

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  • Posted December 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    You just can't make this stuff up.

    Being from Texas, I remember hearing about this when lived in WA. I did not know there was a book about it. Just finished it and it's truly well written. Haunting, sad and unbelievable in the sense that there is still so much cruelty in this world. My heart still goes out to the Byrd family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2004

    An important account of an appalling, odious crime

    In the wee hours of Sunday, June 7, 1998, John William King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry punched and kicked James Byrd, Jr. to the ground, sprayed Byrd in the face with black paint, pulled down his pants and underwear, wrapped a 24-1/2-foot-long logging chain around Byrd's ankles, then dragged him to death behind a pickup truck down a dirt trail, then along the paved Huff Creek Road in Jasper, Texas. As his naked body was hurtled back and forth across the road, Byrd was decapitated by a concrete culvert. The three-mile-long trail yielded Byrd's dentures, wallet, keys, flesh and blood and other gruesome evidence. In separate trials, the three men were convicted of murder. King and Brewer were sentenced to death; Berry's sentence was life in prison. The author, Joyce King (no relation to the murderer), a Houston native, attended all three trials as a reporter for KRLD, a CBS affiliate radio station in Dallas. Her very readable account is spellbinding. Her astute observations on the 110-unit Texas prison system and racism in America are scorching. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2002

    The truth in words

    I just finished reading this book a I fealt that I could not have got a better picture of what relly happend. The book was writen with alot of emotion it took me on a real ride. I would recommend this book to a preson how is intrasted in learning a new perspective.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2002

    great writer

    joyce king is a wonderful writer and i an looking forward to more books from her.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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