Durham, North Carolina – The leader of an anti-gay sect has pleaded guilty to murder for killing a 4-year-old boy because he thought the toddler was gay, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Peter Lucas Moses, 27, the leader of a polygamous group known as the “Black Hebrews,” has agreed to testify against his mother, brother, and sister in order to avoid the death penalty for himself. He faces two life sentences for the murders of Jadon Higganbothan, 4, and Antoinette Yvonne McKoy, 28, if convicted of the crimes.
WRAL-TV reports that members of the Black Separatist cult addressed Moses as “Lord,” and lived together in a house in Southeast Durham. In October 2010, because he believed he saw Higganbothan touch one of his sons “inapproriately” (the boy had allegedly spanked Moses’ son on the bottom), he ordered the boy’s mother to take him into the garage, where Moses shot the child in the head. The women in the group had arranged computer speakers in the garage to play the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew loudly enough to drown out the sound of the gunshot. Two months later, when Moses found out that his consort McKoy could not have children and had decided to escape the cult, he shot her to death in a bathroom of the house. On June 8, 2011, investigators found the bodies of Higganbothan and McKoy buried in trash bags in the basement of another house belonging to the sect. Moses’ fingerprints were found on the tape used to secure the trash bags, and his handgun was proven to have been used in both murders.
The father of the little boy, Jamiel Higganbothan, told WRAL-TV News that he was furious the District Attorney had offered Moses a plea deal to save his life. “Me and my family wanted the death penalty,” Higganbothan said after the deal was announced. Moses’ brother, P. Leonard Moses, his sister, Sheila Moses, and his mother, Sheilda Harris, have been charged with accessories to the murder of Antoinetta McKoy. Jadon’s mother, Vania Sisk, and two other women who lived with Peter Moses, Larhonda Renee Smith and Lavada Quinzetta Harris, have been charged with murder in McKoy’s killing, and as accessories to the murder of the little boy.
The Black Hebrews, according to the SPLC, have roots going back to Black Separatist and Black Nationalist movements in the 19th century. They hold that they, not the Jews, are the true descendants of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. While most members of the modern movement in the United States are non-violent, a growing number of cells have become increasingly anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and prone to violence. They hold that modern Jews are imposters. These extremists also condemn whites for enslaving Blacks, and say that they are worthy of death or slavery because of it.
Chicago, IL – A predominantly gay and lesbian synagogue in Chicago was specifically targeted for a terrorist attack this past weekend. Though the plot was foiled by law enforcement, Chicago’s Jewish community is on alert. The terrorist plot, originating in Yemen and thought to be the work of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, involved explosive-filled packages to be delivered to Or Chadesh, a congregation of around a hundred gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their families, that worships in space rented from Emmanuel Congregation, on the north side of Chicago. According to WLS Radio reports, a highly placed Jewish source informed Emmanuel’s Rabbi Michael Zedek that the LGBTQ synagogue his congregation housed one of two Jewish houses of worship to be targeted in the Chicago area. Zedek, in turn, communicated with the spiritual leader of the Or Chadesh congregation, Rabbi Larry Edwards, to let him know about the plot to attack the LGBTQ congregation. Rabbi Edwards told WLS that members of his flock took the news “rather calmly,” saying that their identity as an LGBTQ synagogue may have been an added reason for terrorists to choose their congregation for an attack. Rabbi Edwards said to The Advocate: “Immediately, you kind of think, ‘well, [representing the gay community], maybe that makes us an additional target…. It could be totally random, somebody went on the Internet and picked a couple of synagogues.” The FBI has affirmed that religious institutions in the Chicago area were specifically chosen by terrorists in the Yemen-based plot, but the FBI has refused to confirm that Or Chadesh (and another, predominantly heterosexual Jewish congregation) was singled out for the attack. Rabbi Edwards says he is puzzled that he and Or Chadesh had not been informed by federal officials. Edwards told a reporter for WLS: “How did you find me? If you could do it, the FBI could do it. … I haven’t heard anything (from the FBI).” Still, Rabbi Edwards and his congregation are “grateful that the system worked in this case and law enforcement tracked [the plot] down.” Press and police came to the Friday services at Emmanuel Congregation, as well as supporters from the community. Rabbi Zedek said that Emmanuel routinely provides a security service whenever anyone is in the building, and has done so for a long time. He did not plan for extra security measures to be implemented at this time. “We’ll operate as business as usual,” Rabbi Zedek said. “That is part of the usual business that has come to our world.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Zedek and other leaders at Congregation Emmanuel discovered that the syangogue website has been visited “dozens of times” by sources in Egypt. Zedek has informed the FBI, and leads are being followed. Prior to nesting with Emmanuel Congregation, LGBTQ-predominant Or Chadesh rented space from Second Unitarian Church in the Lakeview area. Pastor Adam Robersmith of the Unitarian congregation told reporters that he had heard of the possibility that Or Chadesh had been selected by the terrorist in the failed attack, but he also said that he had no reason to believe his congregation was in any peril.
Topeka, Kansas – Steve Drain, a member of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, is proud of his 7-year-old son Bo. Young Bo has learned to hate on a grand scale: Gays, “hundred and hundreds of Jews,” all citizens of the United States, are bound for eternal hellfire. ABC News 20/20 reports that from the cradle, children of the notorious, gay-hating Topeka church are taught that anyone who violates their interpretation of the Bible is bound for everlasting punishment. Gay people are particularly singled out in Bo’s young mind, thanks to the indoctrination he has received from his father, mother, and teachers at WBC. Bo sincerely believes gays by the millions are headed for damnation: “You get destroyed and you get put in hell. Hell is like a burning place where it can never be stopped, burning, and it can burn millions of people every day,” he said. Because the government allows diversity, and for the most part does not punish lesbians, transgender people, and gays, Bo has been taught that all Americans are de facto “fag enablers.” His father, Steve, was so impressed by the message of Phelps back in 2000 when he came to film a story on the church, he returned to Florida, packed up his family, and moved them to Topeka to join the 70-member congregation. He and his wife Luci live just outside the church compound with their four children. The allure of the church is not unlike other utopian, world-hating sects from the past: certainty based on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible and morality, security in a swiftly changing world, salvation from hellfire, and purity from the stains of sin and immorality. The Southern Poverty Law Center has highlighted this church before, and others like it because of the potential for violence that religious bigotry and hate speech breed. While the connection between indoctrination in hatred and physical violence is hotly debated, and courts have upheld the first amendment rights of groups like Westboro Baptist Church to protest at synagogues, LGBT churches, schools, and the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers, there is little doubt that when fringe personalities act violently to harm vulnerable individuals and groups, “true believers” like WBC see the hand of God in the deeds. When the Drains take their children to picket the funerals of military service members killed in the line of duty, they and the other members of WBC praise God for taking the life of another “fag enabler.” According to ABC’s 20/20, Steve Drain, Bo’s father, said the church arrives at the funerals to let families know their loved ones are in hell because they fought for a supposedly damned country. “Remember what we all say: No God fearing man or woman would lift a finger fighting for a country awashed in sin like this,” Steve Drain said to his son. Though the Drains have an estranged eldest daughter, Lauren, who rejects the hatred her family and WBC has taught her, the younger children are content to protest, picket, and preach for hate, at least for now. Bo tells ABC News, “I’m preaching and I’m going with this church, and that’s what the church says. I’m going to go with that my entire life”—A sobering thought for Father’s Day.
Harrison, AR – Ten-year-old Andrew Pendergraft has a picture-perfect American family, and preaches hatred against LGBT people and racial minorities. He hates “homosexual heroes” and “race mixing.” In the most recent edition of “Hatewatch,” the Southern Poverty Law Center highlights the story of this young, blond boy and his sisters Charity, 19, and Shelby, 17, who are being reared by their parents in the culture of hatred for all things non-white and homosexual. The Sun carries an extensive article with revealing photos of the boy, who recently ranted against the Disney animated film, “The Princess and the Frog.” While Andrew opines that the African American Princess is good for all the “black kids,” the fact that the Prince is white is terrible, because that is “race mixing”: “If all other people mix up there won’t be any more white kids,” the Sun quotes him as saying, “So don’t race-mix.” Andrew goes on to complain that the film is anti-Christian since the “good guy” is a Voodoo priest, and Voodoo is a black race blasphemy, while Christianity is the religion of white people. “Voodoo doctors worship the Devil so it’s a pretty bad movie for kids, especially white kids,” Andrew concludes. “Be white and proud. Bye.” The story of the Pendergrafts who have swallowed Klu Klux Klan doctrine hook, line, and sinker, is a warning to American society about the new shape of deadly hatred in this country: the intersection of oppressions and hatreds. Race hatred and anti-semitism do not exist in a vacuum from homophobia and heterosexism. In the Sun interview, Andrew’s mother Rachel proudly states that she home schooled her children because if they were to attend a public school, her kids would be taught about “heroes of the homosexual agenda, and that it is OK to race-mix.” Mrs. Pendergraft goes on to say, “They would be taught that there is a great socialist agenda in America and they can get on that bandwagon.” Undergirding the new face of American hatred is an old evil: support for hate ideology by a particularly intolerant version of the Christian religion. Little Andrew loves to go to the White Christian Revival Center in Harrison where he preaches, and after he finishes shooting his latest segment on the family internet TV project, “White People TV,” he and about 30 other Klan Kids go out bowling. “It is so much fun!” Andrew enthuses. The flaming cross is central to the whole hate project, according to Andrew’s sister, Charity, and has been misunderstood by outsiders and race-mixers: “We don’t call it cross-burning. It is meant to highlight that Jesus died for us on the cross,” she told the Sun. The sincerity of this belief, that the Christian God only approves of white, straight people, and their paranoia about the supposed “extinction of the White race,” make for a dangerous future when inculcated in children so young. According to The Sun, current membership of the KKK in the United States stands at around 8,000, and is growing strongly after the election of America’s first African American “race-mixing” President, Barack Obama.
Washington, D.C. – The annual FBI report on bias-related hate crimes in the United States notes increases in violent attacks against LGBT people, African Americans, and Jewish people. Mandated by the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the collection and publication of these data received voluntarily from law enforcement organizations almost always underestimate the number of incidents and victims of hate crime attacks because of gaps in reportage, lack of funding to support local law enforcement compliance with FBI requests for this information, and the reluctance of persons to identify themselves as targets of hate violence. CBS News analysis of the 2009 FBI report notes that though the numbers of attacks is up only slightly over the previous year, 7,783 criminal incidents involving 9,168 offenses in 2008 as opposed to 7,624 criminal incidents involving 9,006 offenses reported in 2007, the rise in violence against these three vulnerable groups is particularly worrying. Anti-black attacks accounted for 72.6% of all racially-motivated violence, which in aggregate amounted to 51.3% of all hate crimes in the United States in 2008. Anti-religious bias accounted for 19.5% of the total, with anti-Jewish attacks representing the vast majority of these incidents, 65.7%. Violent crimes motivated by sexual orientation ranked third among all bias-motivated crimes, at 16.7%. Of these anti-LGBT attacks, a full 11% higher in 2008 than in 2007, most by far were perpetrated against gay men, 58.6% of all hate crimes against people because of homophobia and heterosexism. Here in Texas, according to the Dallas Voice, hate crimes against LGBT people were up a full 20% over the previous year. The entire FBI report for 2008 may be accessed in .pdf form here. Human rights leaders across the nation were quick to call for swift and decisive action to prosecute perpetrators of hate violence, and to reduce the alarming increases among blacks, Jews, and LGBT people. Joe Solmonese, speaking for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization released this statement on Monday: “These numbers are unacceptable. While it is so important that we have the new federal hate crimes law, it is critical to ensure that we continue working with the Department of Justice to ensure the safety of LGBT citizens. We have to prosecute each hate crime to the fullest extent of the law, but we also need to get at the roots. When we don’t know each other as human beings, ignorance breeds misunderstanding, which breeds hate, which too often this year led to violence. We have to keep fighting the prejudices and stereotypes that underlie these acts.” Roger G. Sugarman, National Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, noted for the Ha’aretz Service “While the increase in the number of hate crimes may be partially attributed to improved reporting, the fact that these numbers remain elevated – particularly the significant rise in the number of victims selected on the basis of religion or sexual orientation – should be of concern to every American.”
by Stephen V. Sprinkle
A paraphrase of Edwin Markham’s poem, “Victory in Defeat,” goes something like this: “Defeat as well as victory can shake the soul and let the glory out.” We are here tonight to tell the history of hope, not hate: hope born out of the hateful deaths of two men ten years ago, James Byrd, Jr. of Jasper, Texas, and Matthew Wayne Shepard of Laramie, Wyoming. Their stories brought us all together tonight. A decade ago, in the United States of America, they each died brutally at the hands of men who had learned to hate someone different.
Dragged behind a pickup truck in the Lone Star State of Texas for over three miles, James Byrd, Jr. died dismembered in a ditch in the wee hours of a June Sunday morning. People going to church found his body, minus his head and right arm, lying in the road in front of a little cemetery. They called the police, and as the police were speeding on their way to the crime scene, other citizens flagged them down because they had found James Byrd’s head in a drainage ditch.
Bludgeoned into a fatal coma with the butt of a .357 Magnum pistol, young Matthew Shepard was robbed of his shoes, his wallet, and ultimately his life in the Equality State of Wyoming on a cold October night. High in the desolate prairie, Matt’s bloody, broken body was trussed to a buck fence where he was abandoned to freezing wind and unforgiving sun for over 18 hours. When his near-lifeless body was found, the deputy sheriff who cut him free from that buck fence testified that he no longer looked like a human being, but more like a beaten Halloween scarecrow, limp on the ground. She said that his face was slathered with blood except for the tracks of his tears on his cheeks where the blood had been washed away. A few days later, Matt’s heart gave out, and he lost his fight for life in an Intensive Care unit.
Yes, defeat can shake the soul. That is what the poet, Edwin Markham said. Markham was a youth in the American Civil War, and the cataclysm of war ravaged the country in the years of the poet’s childhood. African Americans know the earthquakes of hatred and defeat. Long after that awful war was over, new battles faced African Americans, new defeats challenged hope with hate. Jim Crow, Separate But Equal, Strange Fruit with so many thousands lost to the rope that a sinister new term had to be invented to describe it: “lynching.” Hanging from the limbs of southern trees, shot and cut by the Ku Klux Klan, bombed in their Sunday School rooms, cut down by gunfire on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel… in the defeat of death they lay like rows of grain chopped down in a grisly harvest. We remember their names: Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Emmet Till, the four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham: Addie May Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair. Their killings and the murders of too many others to recount tonight show us what hate crimes against a whole race of people can do to shake the soul.
Another slow-rolling holocaust swept the United States from the time in the late 19th century when the term “homosexual” was first coined by doctors who said it was a disease. Who someone loved had already been contested ground in America. In 1958, Mildred Jeter (a woman of white, African-American and Native American heritage) and Richard Loving (a white man) fell in love in the racially mixed, low-income farmland of Caroline County, Virginia. Because of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, they traveled to Washington, D. C. to get married. Shortly after their return to Virginia, police burst into their bedroom at 3 a.m., arrested husband and wife, and carried them away to jail. The Lovings pleaded guilty to being married; they were sentenced to one year in prison. Though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law against “miscegenation,” or interracial marriage, in 1967, there are haters who still believe loving someone is a crime worthy of death.
Though silent and hidden for much of the 20th Century, loving someone of the same gender, or seeking to live into a different gender than the one assigned at birth by a doctor, or even being perceived as belonging to such an orientation has often meant assassination and terror. The defeat of death has shaken the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community, with thousands of fatal attacks throughout this land of the free. Their homes have been desecrated, their bars bombed and burned. They are shot in their classrooms before the eyes of their fellow students, beaten to death with fists and clubs, mutilated with knives, and immolated on stacks of kerosene-soaked tires down lonely, desolate roads. Their lives were counted as less worthy than the lives of other citizens, and scriptures have been endlessly quoted to justify their extermination. We remember their names, tonight, too: Harvey Milk and Diane Whipple, Larry King and Simmie Williams, Billy Jack Gaither and Scotty Joe Weaver, Talana Quay Kreeger and Sakia LaTona Gunn, Paul Broussard, Nicolas West, and Kenneth Cummings, Jr., Fred C. Martinez, Jr., Amancio Corrales, and Gwen Amber Rose Araujo.
The ground of hope on which we stand tonight still shakes with the defeat death brings to African Americans and LGBT Americans. Too many times our respective communities have been shaken apart by differences. As the Dallas Voice has said, it would be hard to find lives of two men more different than the lives of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard. James Byrd was a 49-year-old black man, a father and a grandfather, living in Southeast Texas. Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old white man, a son of privilege going to school at the University of Wyoming.
One of them was a political science major, longing to advocate for the poor and oppressed, ready to launch out into life for the very first time. One of them was unemployed, living on disability checks, and like the Black Church tradition sometimes says, “tryin’ to make a way out of no way.”
But if they are indeed united in the defeat of death, the souls of the Byrd Family and the Shepard Family shaken by the earthquake of terror that only a hate crime can effect, we believe James Byrd and Matthew Shepard are united in something far wider and more vast than the shadow of death. They are forever united in the history of hope, a living hope, a hope worth living for.
James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard represent living hope. As Rev. Karen Thompson, Senior Pastor of MCC Austin at Freedom Oaks has said so well, “It is important that we not let our lasting images of these two men…be images of them as victims of hate. Rather,” she goes on to say, “we are called by their memories to do all we can to ensure that hate will not be the final word.” Ignorance and fear would have us accept defeat in the face of hate, but we cannot do that, because we cannot permit the killers to own the stories of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard.
When the intense spotlight of publicity glared down on the families of these slain men, the Byrd Family and the Shepard Family showed the way to healing and not hate.
Ten years ago, Diane Hardy-Garcia, former executive director of the parent organization of what is now Equality Texas, approached Stella and James Byrd, Sr. to ask that a Hate Crimes act be named after their son. As she recounted recently to the Dallas Voice, “[James Byrd, Jr.’s] mother was so gracious to us. I explained the history [of the Hate Crimes Law in Texas] to them, and how it had failed before and how we wanted to present it this time as a whole package. And I told her, ‘I’ve got to tell you the truth. I think they will pass it if it is just about race. The hang up is including sexual orientation.’
“I had given [Mrs. Byrd] my card,” Hardy-Garcia remembered, “which clearly said Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby.” After about a minute of silence, Mrs. Byrd said, “Follow me,” and took Hardy-Garcia into a room filled with condolence gifts from all over the world. Then Mrs. Byrd said, “I sent Matthew Shepard’s mother a note. We don’t have a problem.” Though the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act went down to defeat the first time, as Hardy-Garcia predicted it might because of the inclusion of sexual orientation, the Byrd Family never wavered in their steadfast support.
The Byrd Family kept on calling for healing, not hating, and went on to establish the James Byrd, Jr. Foundation for Racial Healing. Ross Byrd, James Byrd, Jr.’s son, has chosen to oppose the death penalty, and he has campaigned against executing the very men who bludgeoned, spray painted, and chained his father to the back end of a pickup truck, dragging him to his death—all because he and his family believe in hope, not hate.
Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, chose hope, not hate, and spoke out against the execution of the two young men who killed their son. Along with Matt’s younger brother, Logan, the Shepards became active in educating against hate through the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization they founded to erase hatred through programs of diversity and education.
No one has been more courageously outspoken for the passage of state and federal hate crimes legislation than Judy Shepard, who has said to all who will hear her:
“Matt is no longer with us today because the men who killed him learned to hate. Somehow and somewhere they received the message that the lives of gay people are not as worthy of respect, dignity and honor as the lives of other people. They were given the impression that society condoned or at least was indifferent to violence against gay and lesbian Americans.”
She went on to say, “Today, we have it within our power to send a very different message than the one received by the people who killed my son. It is time to stop living in denial and to address a real problem that is destroying families like mine, James Byrd Jr.’s, and many others across America.”
If we are to rise to the challenge these two great families give us, to shake the soul of Texas and the nation, and to let the glory of a better, more just America shine through, then we have to get real about what it means to live out the hope we proclaim tonight.
- The real problem is that it is ten years since the murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard, and the United States still does not have a federal hate crimes law that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. There is still no Matthew Shepard Act on the books ten years after—why not?
- The real problem is that even when the Lone Star State has a hate crimes law, the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, though there have been over 1800 hate crimes perpetrated in Texas since its passage, there have been only nine hate crimes cases tried under the provisions of this law. Ten years after, why only nine?
- The real problem is that hate crimes are real and are on the rise in America. Don’t let anyone tell you there are not such things as hate crimes, or that “all murders are alike, and we already have the laws to cover them.” Hate crimes are brutally real, targeting whole populations of people with acts of terror. Hate crimes are significantly more violent and brutal than any other forms of domestic crime. You see, every locale and demographic of American society are affected: First Nations, Anglo, Black, Latino/Latina, South and Southeast Asian, Transgender, Gay Men, Lesbians, Disabled, young and mature. Homophobia and racism have long, crooked arms, reaching out to snatch the life away from women and men whose murders are underreported to begin with, and whose memories vanish so quickly.
We can’t talk about crimes like these tonight in the abstract. What does hate crime look like in the year 2008? Here is what it looks like:
- February 14, 2008: the senseless shooting of Lawrence “Larry” King, 15 years old, who was targeted because of his sexual orientation and non-conformity with traditional gender roles, in Oxnard, CA.
- June 17, 2008: a hate crime attack perpetrated by 12 young men and women against Black teenager Tizaya Robinson, 17 years old, in Marshfield, MA.
- July 17, 2008: the brutal and tragic hate murder of male-to-female transgender Latina, Angie Zapata, 18 years old, in Greeley, CO.
- July 29, 2008: the killing of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25 years old, an undocumented Mexican immigrant of Shenandoah, PA who was fatally beaten at the hands of five white teenagers.
- September 4, 2008: openly gay man, Richard Hernandez, 34 years old, murdered and dismembered inside his apartment in Dallas, TX.
- October 6, 2008: Pvt. 2nd Class Michael Handman, 20 years old, a Jewish soldier in the US Army, was moved to a secure location at Fort Benning, GA far from the scene of an anti-Semitic assault by a fellow soldier that left him hospitalized with a concussion and other serious injuries.
What must we then do, if we are to move through the manifold defeats of hate crime violence in this land, to a land of hope, and not hate? Like you, I take courage from the leadership of the Byrd and Shepard Families. Like you, I need that courage tonight, to rededicate myself to healing and not hating, to hope, and not hate.
I believe we must first move past our personal feelings of powerlessness and denial, beyond the natural psychological barriers we all face when we stare into the mirror of such violence, and see our own part in it. Oh, yes, though it would be convenient to lay the blame exclusively somewhere else, we in the LGBT and Racial/Ethnic minority communities still have much understanding to learn, and much forgiveness to ask of each other, if we are ever to move beyond being defeated people ourselves, and find our way together into a better future for all our people. Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-female Black a capella choir, say it this way in the lyrics of their song, “Rise in Love”:
We have much work to do if we are to live into the hope we long for and talk about. We must renew our efforts to name, claim and reject the racism that too many LGBT people harbor against people of color, and to name, claim and reject the homophobia and heterosexism that too many racial/ethnic communities still hold against gay folk. We have to get over it! In a paraphrase of the Good Book, how can we say that we love justice and harbor ill will against others of us? We have to get “shook up and shook a-loose” ourselves if we are ever to lead our nation to a better society.
And finally, we must move beyond just feeling bad about injustice. Americans are good about feeling bad. Perhaps we get angry, perhaps we get mad enough when we hear the outrageous stories of hate crimes in our community that we pay attention for a news cycle or two. Perhaps we attend a rally like this, and even write a little check to an advocacy group. And once we are past the first flush of emotion, then the economy gets our attention, or the fine Texas autumn, and we go dormant until hate strikes again, for hate surely will strike again if we do not act. Yes, Americans are good at feeling bad, until we start to feel better.
We cannot afford to let emotion alone motivate the work of justice. We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! (An homage to “Ella’s Song,” by Sweet Honey in the Rock.) When memory shakes the soul like an earthquake, we have the obligation and opportunity to remember James Byrd, Jr., and refuse to rest until Texas perfects the hate crimes statutes it has, and applies them not just nine times, but all 1800 times.
We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! When a mother like Judy Shepard challenges us to send a different message to America than the one delivered by the men who killed her son, we must embrace that memory with all its pain, and break out of defeat into action. We must join Judy Shepard in agitating our lawmakers and opinion-makers until the Matthew Shepard Act is passed in the new Congress, and signed into law by a new President of these United States.
We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! Until Black folks and gay folks, women and men, Latinos and Latinas, and all the citizens of this nation can live free and love without fear of acts of violence, until hate is overcome by acts of love and forgiveness and hope, until the glory of this land of the free and this home of the brave shines on all people without distinction and without discrimination.
Not another ten years! Not another 12 months! This very night, each one here must find the courage and resolve to lift up Byrd and Shepard as signs of our hope, a hope worth working for, a hope worth agitating for, a hope worth staying shook up about…
For we who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes!
Stephen V. Sprinkle
The Unfinished Lives Project