Growing up when I would get mad at someone I would say I hated that person and my grandmother always told me never to hate. I may dislike someone but I never hated anyone because it eats away at your heart. I have been through some situations in life where I had to remind myself of that. So looking into Hate Crimes I couldn’t imagine what would bring someone to a point where someone could dislike someone down to the core so much for being different that they could do the things that I have seen. Some of you may think that because I write so casually about these crimes that I am ok with what I see and to a certain point I am. Crime is an everyday part of life. Crimes of passion in the heat of anger happen… everyone has their breaking point, but writing this next series of articles I was disturbed to the core. The people I am going to write about may not be perfect; they may have a past we may not think was stellar. They may have a perfect past. But they died for being who they were. They died for being born different than the ones who killed them. I only hope that by sharing their stories that we can put an end to this nonsense and learn that we should get along for our differences and not for our similarities. And I hope that I can do some justice to those who died for doing nothing wrong.
James Byrd Jr.
I am not sure how many remember the murder of James Byrd Jr. But if you’re the same age as me you would have been about 15 and in high school when James was murdered in a very gruesome fashion. It was June 7, 1998 in Jasper Texas when James accepted a ride from 3 white men. James knew one of the men who was named Shawn Berry a 24yr old who he knew from around town. The other two people in the truck were Lawrence Russel Brewer (31) and John King (23) known white supremacists. Shawn Berry’s only known role in the death of his acquaintance is that he drove the vehicle that killed him. It is unknown how long after James got into the bed of the truck did the beating begin but he was beaten with a baseball bat before he was tied to the hitch of the truck with a chain by his ankles. Now one of them tried to say that his throat was slit before they decided to drag his body 3 miles however the evidence showed that he was alive. Facts are that James was alive and was trying to hold his head up while they drove down the road with him tied to the back of the truck. After about a mile and a half they hit an underground drainage ditch and at that point he was decapitated and one of his arms came off. For another mile and a half they continued to drag his body before dumping him in front of a cemetery known to bury primarily blacks. They had beat him, urinated on him, dismembered him, and dragged his dying bleeding body for 3 miles before discarding him like trash. There were 81 pieces of his body found along the route they took. After they murdered a man they went to a barbecue and lived their life that night as if nothing had happened. Along the route police found items that had the names of the perpetrators on it and that are how they were able to quickly solve this case. When they were arrested, King had written a letter to Brewer that was intercepted by corrections officers that said “Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history. Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!“. Brewer and King both received death sentences for their role in the cold blooded murder of James Berry Jr. Shawn Berry only received life in prison and will be eligible for his first chance at parole in 2038. John King is still sitting on death row in Texas using appeals to try and spare his life or gets a new trial however in September of 2011 Lawrence Brewer was put to death. The day before his execution he told a new channel “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth” It is also because of Brewer that there is no longer a last meal served in Texas. He ordered so much food and didn’t touch a bite of it. Shawn Berry is married to the girlfriend he had before he was arrested and they had a child together it apparently doesn’t bother her that he was party to a murder.
This whole case bothers me. Many people have called this a modern day lynching and I agree. It seems to be that they took a “redneck” way of doing what the KKK had done for many years before them. When I think about this case I can only imagine this man screaming for his life as these guys sit in the back of the truck hooting and hollering about what a good time they’re having. It takes a special kind of disturbed to come up with something like this. To drag a live person to their death is something I could never imagine doing. And to do so just because they’re different. Yes they did it because he was black but it breaks down to something simpler than that. They did it because he was different! At some point John King said prior to James Byrd’s death when he was in jail he had joined a white supremacy gang because he was gang raped by black gangs so he needed protection but even if that were the case, why take it out on someone you don’t know. Someone who was an acquaintance of your friend? It is crimes like these that made me want to become a homicide detective or practice law. I wanted to put scum like this away. I wanted to find out why they did things like this to try and stop others from repeating the same mistakes. The truth is there is no answer.
Now since the death of Alfred Wright has yet to be determined (by someone other than the police) I can’t say for sure that his death is a hate crime. However, I can say that the investigation into his disappearance and death has been rather suspicious. This death took place about an hour away from Jasper Texas. Now there are many theories floating around. Not just online but within his family as well. One theory is that Alfred was fooling around with the Sheriff’s daughter and was killed for it. Another is that he was victim of a hate crime killed strictly for being black. And the Sheriff’s theory is he got high freaked out and died his body mutilated by animals. So lets take a look at the facts from the beginning and see if we can’t come to a reasonable conclusion.
November 7, 2013 after a weeks worth of issues with his truck and replacing the alternator, Alfred called his wife to say that the truck was running hot and he was pulling off into a little convenience store called CL&M and could she come pick him up. She wasn’t able to so she let him know she was sending his parents. According to the clerk who was working at the time, Alfred had waited about an hour before he tucked his phone into his sock and took off running away from his truck “as if it were about to explode” which was 20min before his parents showed up. Just after 6 before his parents had reached his location, his wife had tried to reach him and she said all she could hear was heavy breathing as if he was in distress. His parents of course immediately called in the Sheriff and filed a missing person’s report. The Sheriff took the information and said they would look for him. The next day about a mile away from where Alfred went missing, a rancher found some of Alfred’s clothes and his watch thrown on some barbed wire. When the clothes were found the Sheriff told Alfred’s mother that he had probably run away and was on drugs. After only a few days they called off the search and said there was nothing more they could do. The Sheriff said if Alfred was on meth that is how they act, they get hot they take off their clothes. His body was found 18 days after the initial search in an area reportedly searched by the police with search hounds. This leaves the door open to two thoughts… 1. The area was never searched or 2. The body was placed there after the search because the offender knew that ground had been searched. Either way, the family was the one who found the body not the police. The body was found only in his boxers, both shoes, and 1 sock containing his cell phone. There were questions surrounding the condition of his clothes found on the body. There had been rains during the time Alfred was missing and there was a lot of mud and brush in the area he had been found yet his clothes and shoes were clean as if he hadn’t been there long. Also in an area with a lot of wild life such as hogs, it comes into question as to why he wasn’t eaten down to the bone or completely at all. His body was found missing his eyes, his throat slashed, and his tongue cut or missing (neither has been confirmed). The Sheriff and the medical examiner attributed the state of the body to animal and insect activity. The autopsy also showed that there were drugs in the system. However the family didn’t believe in what the ME found so they hired their own pathologist to do another autopsy which showed that there was foul play. The medical examiner’s autopsy report said the death was accidental, the victim died 3hrs after his decomposing body was found, it said the cut along the neck was from animals as were the shallow puncture wounds on 5 different locations of his body. The case was handed over to the Texas Rangers and they said that the slit across his throat was from the autopsy (can these people at least get their lies straight?). There is also suspicion that the dime found near the body could be the killer’s way of saying that Alfred knew something that could get someone in trouble and that he was killed to keep his mouth shut.
There is a lot of craziness that surrounds this case. The store that Alfred broke down at is owned by the dispatcher for the Sheriff’s department, there was a deputy at the store buying beer at the time who did not help Alfred but instead just watched as this black man in a white town took off running away from his truck, and of course there is the Sheriff who called off the search and immediately said it was drugs before the body was found and mysteriously a physical trainer who has never been known to use drugs in his life is found with drugs in his system. The Sheriff’s ex girlfriend said that after she had broken up with him dimes appeared in her bed and car. Does this suggest that maybe the Sheriff does have something to do with the death of Alfred Wright? It is quite possible. There are many things in this case that don’t add up and though I can’t say at this point it would be considered a hate crime I do consider the Sheriff’s behavior to be hateful. He didn’t want to look for the black guy who went missing. He either had something to do with it or he didn’t care because the guy was black. Either way this is something that needs attention.
Growing up I was always the odd one out. I know far too well what it’s like to be different. I had difficulty writing about this topic because these men were killed for being different (or the death of Alfred Morris was treated differently because he was different). James Byrd Jr. was killed by someone he was familiar with because he was different. We can say all we want about how much we’ve evolved but we really haven’t. There are still towns in the south that don’t like blacks… Jasper Texas is one of them. There are still people raising their kids that other races are trash. Ignorance breeds ignorance. But that ignorance goes both ways. We have to stop with the ignorance all together. Don’t call your boy your “Nigga” and your girl your bitch but then wanna snap on a white person for saying the same thing. If its a term of disrespect for one to say it then its a term of disrespect for all to say it. “Nigga” is a derivative of the term “nigger” and to be a “nigger” or “niggerish” you are selfish/greedy. Just remember that when you call your boy your “Nigga”. Remember the next time you treat someone rudely for being different that you’re discriminating against them the same way that others have been discriminated against.
As always, if you would like to be featured in our Q&A sessions with Helena, feel free to contact her with your questions or opinions on the featured stories via email at Wonderlandbce@gmail.com and follow me on twitter @WonderlandBCE. In the meantime, you can still make your way down our warped rabbit hole into Helena Gudell’s WONDERLAND every Mondays & Wednesday exclusively on Brewcityexpress.com.