The Dragging of James Byrd Jr

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The disturbing prevalence of racism in today’s society leads to conflicts and animosity among people, which often escalate into acts of violence. Sadly, individuals continue to be killed on a daily basis solely because of their race. A tragic example of this occurred in Jasper, Texas on June 7, 1998. James Byrd Jr., an innocent African-American man, unknowingly accepted a ride from Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King – three white men driven by their deep hatred towards black people. Shockingly, these individuals reprehensibly dragged Mr. Byrd behind their truck.

Brewer, the driver, was familiar with Byrd from the local area. The trio initially set out to locate a specific party but were unsuccessful, resulting in them aimlessly driving and consuming alcohol. Unable to find any girls to pursue, one of them suggested the idea of attaching a chain to a mailbox, uprooting it, and dragging it along the street. The amusement lasted briefly until they grew tired of it and ran low on beer in their cooler. Seeking more excitement, they soon noticed an African American man walking on the road, unaware of their presence (King 23).

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Byrd was offered a ride by someone and hoped they would guide him while he was slightly intoxicated. He entered the back of their truck and drank some beer which was given to him. King became infuriated at Berry’s offer to give a black man a ride and began making racist remarks, which were met with laughter. Byrd pretended not to be bothered by the comments. Eventually, they stopped at a closed grocery store called BJ’s Grocery, where the events leading to James Byrd Jr’s tragic end began to unfold. They travelled down a secluded logging road that few people knew about. When they were far enough, King commanded the truck to stop and Berry complied. King and Brewer forcibly pulled Byrd out of the truck, despite his physical limitations due to chronic arthritis and his short stature. Byrd put up a brave fight and screamed for help. According to later testimony, Berry made an attempt to stop the attack, but King and Brewer persisted. After the struggle, King became agitated and ordered Byrd to be killed.

As soon as they removed Byrd from the truck, they proceeded to mercilessly beat and kick him, inflicting severe blows on his body and head. Throughout this brutal assault, numerous pieces of evidence dropped onto the ground, including a Zippo lighter inscribed with the words “Possum” and “KKK,” as well as a brand-new baseball cap. These items were accompanied by beer bottles, a partially consumed pack of Marlboro Reds, cigarette butts, and a nut wrench with the name “Berry” scratched onto it. All of these objects served as clear evidence for the state’s prosecution (King 27). The intensity of the attack was so relentless that it became impossible to tally the number of blows inflicted upon Byrd.

Brewer proceeded to spray black spray paint onto his face, resulting in Byrd’s loss of vision. The most forceful blow took place when the kick landed directly on Byrd’s head, causing him to cease fighting and collapse. Subsequently, the individuals extracted a previously used and deteriorating log chain from their vehicle. They encircled the chain around Byrd’s ankles and fastened its other end to the truck. The trio then reentered the truck and readied themselves to drag Byrd, still conscious, behind them (King 27). Throughout this horrific ordeal, Byrd experienced every sensation; from the touch of each weed and every minuscule particle of grass and dirt to the entirety of the asphalt beneath him.

The dragging of Byrd’s body on the logging road resulted in a chain slip, causing the driver to abruptly stop in order to retrieve Byrd. However, the driver reversed too quickly and inadvertently ran over Byrd’s body, which was met with laughter. During the continued dragging, Byrd’s body was subjected to rocks, dirt, tree branches, and debris. Despite his attempts to keep his head off the ground, Byrd was thrown from one side of the road to the other, eventually colliding with a culvert that resulted in his decapitation. This gruesome incident took place in front of a church frequented by the black community every Sunday.

They still dragged his body without a head. Pieces were ripped off and scattered by the road. About a mile away, his head was torn from his lower body. The remaining parts were brought near a small cemetery, where horrified onlookers witnessed this brutal act. His body conveyed a clear message to all: You might be the next victim (King 29)! It happened on a Sunday morning, when the area was crowded with churchgoers. Death’s three-mile trail was visible for everyone. Mostly black individuals had to traverse this path on foot.

Living here, they had already encountered this kind of hatred before. Nevertheless, Byrd’s death had a profound effect. In response to his tragic passing, Obama passed the Matthew Shepard Act, a legislation that provides financial resources and assistance from law enforcement agencies to local authorities in their endeavors to combat hate crimes directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, the Matthew Shepard Law expanded the coverage of the 1969 United States Federal Hate-Crime Law to include offenses motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability (“James Byrd”).

The motivation for this hatred stemmed from Brewer and King’s involvement in a white supremacist organization, with King Byrd being targeted in an effort to promote their cause. It’s worth noting that Brewer was formerly an “Exalted Cyclops” in a racially biased prison gang connected to the Ku Klux Klan (“Death Penalty”). Some individuals adopt racist beliefs due to their families holding the same discriminatory views. However, I strongly disagree with this mindset since it is unjust to direct animosity towards innocent individuals who likely haven’t done anything to offend other races. Hate crimes occur frequently, emphasizing the urgent need to put an end to such atrocities.

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The Dragging of James Byrd Jr. (2016, Nov 27). Retrieved from

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