Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Hate Crimes and Capital Punishment: A Special Comment

Lawrence Russell Brewer, on the day he was booked for the murder of James Byrd Jr.

Huntsville, Texas – On September 21 at 6:11 p.m., before witnesses whom included his hate crime victim’s family and his own, Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44, was injected with lethal drugs in the execution chamber of Huntsville Prison.  Ten minutes later, he was pronounced dead.  Sentenced to death for the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd Jr., there was no doubt about the convict’s guilt.  Brewer and two accomplices, John William King and Shawn Allen Berry, abducted Byrd, a 49-year-old African American, in Jasper, Texas, beat him, bound him with a log chain attached to the backend of a pickup truck, and dragged him three miles down a rough East Texas road until his head was detached from his body when it hit a culvert.  The racially-motivated murder made the nation shudder–and marked a decisive moment in the hate crime justice movement for LGBTQ people as well as for African Americans. But the justice of capital punishment for hate crime murders is still up for serious question, even after the execution of a bigoted man who displayed no remorse for his crime.  Brewer had even urinated on Byrd before dragging him to his death.

In Texas, the racist murder of James Byrd Jr. was quickly equated with the anti-gay murder of young Matthew Wayne Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, that occurred barely four months later.  After abortive attempts to get a state hate crimes statute naming gays and lesbians as a protected class, the Byrd family agreed to sign on with Shepard’s family to achieve a landmark Texas law including African Americans and LGB persons as protected classes from prejudicial murder.  Governor Rick Perry, who today is the notably anti-gay Republican front runner for President, signed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into law back in May 2001, inclusive of “sexual preference” as a protected category.  It took the federal government eight more years to enact a comprehensive hate crimes law inclusive of LGBT people in the United States. The James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009.  The families of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. were honored guests at the presidential signing ceremony in the White House.

Can state-sanctioned execution remedy anti-gay or racially motivated hate crime murders?  Brewer’s death by lethal injection, in the same week as the hotly contested execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, brought that issue to a head for the national media, human and civil rights activists, moral theologians, and the families of victims alike.  Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC anchor of “The Last Word,” opined that the only way to prevent the execution of putatively innocent death row inmates like Davis is to outlaw the execution of even the most unrepentant of guilty killers like Brewer.  Dick Gregory, the fabled comedian and human rights activist, was present in Huntsville protesting the execution of James Byrd Jr.’s murderer for just that reason.  The Houston Chronicle quotes Gregory as saying, “Any state killing is wrong. If Adolph Hitler were to be executed,” he said, “I would be here to protest . . . I believe life in prison is punishment. Execution is revenge.”

Ross Byrd, James Byrd’s son, who is now 32, spoke out to Reuters the night before Brewer’s execution for the murder of his father. “You can’t fight murder with murder,” Byrd said, representing his family. “Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”  The Reuters article concludes by presenting Ross Byrd’s position that for the state to execute Brewer is no more that a continuation of the cycle of violence that destroyed his father’s life on that lonely road in the dead of night in 1998. Byrd believes that all people, the government included, should decide not to perpetuate that cycle of death. “Everybody’s in that position,” he said. “And I hope they will stand back and look at it before they go down that road of hate. Like Ghandi said, an eye for an eye, and the whole world will go blind.”

Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s father, took a similar position on the day his son’s second killer was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.  Speaking to Aaron James McKinney, the roofer who beat Matt into a fatal coma with a pistol, Shepard said that Matt was not opposed to the death penalty. As a matter of fact, at a family meeting, Matt had said that heinous murders like the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. deserved capital punishment. “Mr. McKinney,” Shepard said, “I, too, believe in the death penalty. I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt. Mr. McKinney, I am not doing this because of your family. I am definitely not doing this because of the crass and unwarranted pressures put on by the religious community. If anything, that hardens my resolve to see you die. Mr. McKinney, I’m going to grant you life, as hard as that is for me to do, because of Matthew.”  Shepard concluded, “Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life, and may you thank Matthew every day for it.”

Admittedly, all other hate crimes victims’ families do not necessarily agree with Mr. Byrd and Mr. Shepard.  Some support capital punishment as justice for the heinous nature of the crimes committed against their loved ones.  But Lawrence Russell Brewer’s Texas execution is not so cut and dried as the most ardent supporters of capital punishment would like to believe.  The world is far grayer than any black-and-white wishes for closure can achieve in a culture where bigotry kills innocent people everyday, and where the state can and does execute anyone it deems legal to terminate. What is right and what is wrong about capital punishment for hate crimes murder perpetrators?  What is just for the victims and their families, and for the society the killers have also grievously wounded by their deeds of hatred?  We at the Unfinished Lives Project do not claim to have the final truth about these monumental issues.  But we do agree with Ross Byrd and Dennis Shepard.  Until our fallible knowledge is replaced by the divine in some other world than this and some other time than ours, we will err on the side of mercy.  Honor the dead.  Break the cycle.  Stop the killing.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, capital punishment, Dragging murders, Execution, gay bashing, gay men, Georgia, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, President Barack Obama, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, Texas, transgender persons, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hate Crimes and Capital Punishment: A Special Comment

Two Transgender Murders Bespeak Crisis of Violence

Marcal Camero Tye, 25, hate crime victim

Forrest City, Arkansas and Baltimore, Maryland – The brutal murders of two transgender women of color within the last month indicate the epidemic nature of transphobic and racist violence against the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.  No suspects have been identified yet in the murder of Tyra Trent, 25, who was found asphyxiated in a vacant building owned by the city in Baltimore on February 19.  Ms. Trent had been reported missing days before the discovery of her body.  Marcal Camero Tye, also 25, was murdered by dragging behind a vehicle for several hundred feet in Forrest City, Arkansas on March 8. The FBI has begun an investigation into the grisly murder of Ms. Tye, since Arkansas has not statute on the books protecting transgender people. No witnesses have come forward, and no suspects are being investigated in the Tye case as of yet.  Transgender activists have filled the cyberworld with posts and articles about the two women, since regional and national media routinely ignore such stories, and the African American and LGBTQ press seem not to be much better when it comes to reporting these terrible acts of violence.  Media chronically use male pronouns when referring to these women who gave so much in order to live life as they were born to be. Statements like “a man in a dress” sensationalize and demean the victims over and over again, even following their murders–thereby re-victimizing the victims. By definition, these murders are hate crimes perpetrated against a class of human beings who have remarkable hurdles to surmount in society.  It is amazing to us at Unfinished Lives that Ms. Tye could live as a transgender woman in small town Arkansas.  Ms. Trent faced similar problems in big town life.  Local law enforcement authorities are reluctant to launch hate-crime investigations because of internalized bias against transgender persons.  In the case of Ms. Tye, Arkansas LGBTQ activists were infuriated when Francis County Sheriff Bobby May asserted that her murder was a usual homicide and that the dragging death reports of he demise were “misleading.”  The Little Rock-based Center for Artistic Revolution has issued statements of alarm and support for Ms. Tye since the initial reports of her slaying. As EDGE Boston reports: “The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ most recent report on anti-LGBT hate violence also indicated disproportionately high levels of anti-trans violence. Trans women-many of whom were of color-comprised half of the 22 reported anti-LGBT murders in 2009.” The situation has reached epidemic proportions across the nation.  These two savage killings underscore the need for LGBTQ and racial/ethnic minority advocates to amplify the cries of the transgender community.  The killings must stop.

March 20, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Arkansas, Asphixiation, Blame the victim, Character assassination, Dragging murders, FBI, gender identity/expression, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Maryland, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Strangulation, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Two Transgender Murders Bespeak Crisis of Violence

   

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: