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James Byrd Jr.

There have been many cases where the general public has been asked not to share photos or the names of mass shooters, racists, etc.. They say, “don’t give him the glory and attention he wants” or “he’ll only be seen as a martyr by his cohorts” if we publicize the person or his actions.

Well?

When the twentieth anniversary of Mr. Byrd’s death came, no one said anything (with very little exception). I tried, to no avail, to get the attention of activists with larger platforms such as Shaun King, and several others to help boost Byrd’s story. I realize that I clearly don’t have “the clout” to even garner the attention of these folks. Many of them likely haven’t heard of the case or know much about it (or me), so I let it go. I had hoped to get their attention, but my expectations were for me to be left in the background as I routinely am with these folks.

This time, however, I have something much more to say because it seems as though when the perpetrators are executed, that’s the BIG story. The reactionary headlines, worded in such a way that generate more clicks; because that’s important. The captions on every news article invoked the actions of what occurred in a very general sense but just specific enough to grab people’s attention with emotion. Again, for the clicks (ad money).

On June 7, 1998, I was just getting settled into Texas for the first time in my life. On my journey here, via Miami, I often wondered what hate and racism looked like in the south. Coming from the NY/NJ metro area, racist attacks were dealt with on the streets. Back then, it seemed like neo-nazis were everywhere we were. So when something started to pop-off with those racist bastards, we were in it. But when I saw this on the news in Houston, I immediately knew this was a whole new world of hate. When it comes to racism, things in Texas were very different.

These fools are still lynching people down there.

It was then that I realized just how deeply ingrained hate and racism are in the United States. I became aware of institutional racism. I began to see it in cops, judges, teachers, students, parents, and even doctors. As my fighting mentality remained, getting me into many fights with racists and neo-nazis at concerts, clubs, and on the streets, it kept me in some trouble so-to-speak. Luckily for me, my understanding of Texas’ “willing participants,” “provocation,” and “good samaritan” laws, fighting would get me a little time in the drunk-tank and I’d be on my way.

It was in dealing with the cops and judges in these scenarios that I would see the difference in how I would be treated as opposed to how the white neo-nazis were treated. I would inevitably be placed on a list and cops would routinely stop by our house for no other reason than to “check how I was doing” at random times. If I wasn’t home, they would make an effort to locate me to see if I was up to no good. Something racist white kids never dealt with.

Back then I harbored more anger towards racists than ever before. It was anger that was intensified by what happened to James Byrd. Racist kids at school led to many fights as well as fights with several racist teachers who were also cops in the area. Something that is quite common in Texas. Shortly after the death of Byrd, many were quietly celebrating his death by wearing confederate gear (shirts, jackets, belt buckles, etc.). It was disgusting.

That’s the kind of shit that angered me to no end. If I were to question it I was called a spic, among many other things. Reporting it to teachers or counselors did nothing; leading to even more fights at school. It wouldn’t be long before I would get kicked out. From there, my education took on a more non-traditional approach leading me to excel in ways I never could in public school. Which is fine. Texas schools suck anyway.

It was then that I seized the opportunity to visit these communities of racists, which at the time I wondered if they were limited to the East Texas area (they’re not). My crew and I made several visits to many small towns. Vidor, Jasper, Rusk, Crosby, and more. We learned that the KKK was alive and well in those towns/areas and still are; that discussions of lynchings are quite common but rarely acted on; that these racists were lost in time to an era where they believe they still have the power and support from local and regional leaders. And they do.

Many people are probably thinking that there is no way that still exists, but it does. The three useless humans behind the lynching of James Byrd would have gotten away with their crime had it been sanctioned by the Klan. The Klan doesn’t officially support lynchings anymore but they still abide by the process of casting out those who commit unsanctioned acts. In other words, no protection. There’s no doubt these three guys acted of their own free will. But if their actions were sanctioned and they were granted protection, they would have disappeared.

Despite what we learned from all that traveling, nothing was more profound than meeting the family of James Byrd. There was a sense of love, of forgiveness, of strength that the rest of us only wish we could behold. While many wanted vengeance, his family only wanted justice.

As the execution of John King was set to happen, I stayed in contact with James Byrd’s cousin, Ed. We talked through the whole thing awaiting word that King would finally be dead. Upon hearing word that it was finally done, Ed commented that “it’s taken a long time to hear this good news.” Ed was more like me in the sense that he wanted vengeance and since we couldn’t have it, we waited on the state for more than 20 years. It’s about time, indeed.

“As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” — Lawrence Brewer, accomplice

“Well, I did it. And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I’m still licking my lips for more.’’ — Lawrence Brewer, accomplice

Lawrence Brewer also wrote John King after their arrests saying that they had become bigger stars than O.J. Simpson and that a life sentence would do them no justice. Brewer wrote that lethal injection would be ‘’a little old sleeping medicine.’’ Brewer was executed on September 21, 2011. King was executed on April 24, 2019. Both were executed by the State of Texas.

To the Aryan Brotherhood, they’re martyred as heroes who died for the cause.

If you take anything away from this I want you to honor the man whose life was lost to these white supremacist thugs, and that in most cases racists like these hold no remorse or regrets about what they have done because they are seen as heroes.

It’s an American tradition.

Written by

Anti-racist activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. Support my work at patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

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