Riverton, Wyoming – Santana Mendoza, the second teenage defendant in the September 2013 murder of a gay Native American was sentenced for manslaughter yesterday in the death of a gay Native American, and the victim’s mother is crying foul. Her son’s murder was a hate crime, Victoria Moss said, and the sentences the court handed down to the teens who killed him show the world that the life of a Native American gay man is worth less than if he were straight and white. County 10 reports that Ms. Moss declared that since this is National LGBTQ Pride Month, she would be honoring her son while gay people and allies celebrated Pride. “This Saturday,” she said, “I will be celebrating the pride I have for my gay son.”
David Ronald Moss Jr., 25, was bludgeoned to death by teenagers Santana Mendoza and John Potter on the Rails to Trails Pathway behind a Riverton trailer park on September 4, 2013. Moss’s companion, Aleeah Crispin, was beaten into brain damage by the teens during the same attack, leaving her unable to speak for weeks afterwards. Mendoza and Potter, 16 and 15 at the time of the brutal assault, were both tried as adults. Both initially pled not guilty to all charges. In April of this year, after a plea deal reducing the charge from second degree murder to manslaughter, Potter was sentenced, as reported by County 10. After the same plea deal was accepted by District Attorney Michael Bennett for Mendoza, his sentence was handed down by Ninth Circuit Judge Norman E. Young after a one-hour sentencing hearing at which Crispin herself testified. Mendoza’s sentence mirrors Potter’s sentence almost perfectly: 12 to 18 years for the murder of Moss, minus time served, and 8 to 10 years for the assault on Crispin, both sentences to run concurrently. The sentence also mandates that the youths share a restitution of $12,000 to be paid to the living victim and the families. Moss’s mother is convinced that her son’s sexual orientation and Native American heritage played into the judge’s decision to hand down a light sentence that would never have been tolerated by the white, straight community if the victim had been one of their own. Some say that the revelation of Moss’s sexual orientation came as a surprise to them.
Judge Young denies being influenced by the knowledge that Moss was gay. He told County 1o that he now believes neither of the youths “intended” to kill Moss, who succumbed to blunt force trauma to his head according to the Coroner’s report. What Judge Young does admit to considering was the age of the defendants. Both were born in 1997. He said that he had never sentenced anyone in his career as young as they.
The attack was swift, terrifying and brutal. Mendoza testified that he and Potter saw two friends eating fast food near the beginning of the pathway. The Daily Ranger reported that while Mendoza watched Moss and Crispin, Potter left to retrieve a ball bat and brass knuckles that they used in the attack on Moss and Crispin. The teens beat them in the face with the bat, and repeated kicked them. When they left, Mendoza testified, both victims were unconscious, and Moss was making a “snoring” sound. The next morning, two unresponsive bodies were found on the trail. Moss was dead. Crispin was beaten mute, and left with significant brain injuries.
Hate crime was never considered during the investigation. Instead, law enforcement and the District Attorney sought for other motives for the senseless crime.
Moss was an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and proud of it. His obituary portrayed a young man who was devoted to family, especially to his niece, Morning Star, and liked by a wide circle of family and friends.
The accusation of David Moss’s mother still hangs in the air as the two youths serve out their sentences: What is the comparative worth of the life of a gay Native American? Where is the justice in any of this senselessness?
Jasper, Texas – James Byrd Jr., father of three children, never intended to become a key player in the struggle to protect LGBTQ people from hate crime violence. But when he fell into the hands of three haters by accepting a ride from them on June 7, 1998, he became one of the most famous hate crimes murder victims of all time.
Byrd, 49, was looking for a ride home to be with his family. Instead, his three abductors, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King, aged 23 to 31 years of age, drove him out to a lonely road outside of the small town of Jasper, Texas, beat him senseless, urinated on him, and tied his ankles to the hitch of their pick up truck–apparently for no reason other than race hatred. It was a lynching-by dragging. Byrd’s killers dragged him three miles along an asphalt road until he died. Speeding along the road, his body struck a concrete culvert, severing his right arm, shoulder, and head. Investigators located 81 sites along the route where remains of Byrd’s body were scattered. Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray, said that the murder of James Byrd Jr. was the worst he had seen in over 20 years as a prosecutor. Berry, Brewer, and King dumped Byrd’s body beside the cemetery of an African American Church, and went on to celebrate their deed at a barbecue–feeling that no one in Jasper County or the State of Texas would miss a lone African American.
They were desperately wrong. Brewer and King, well-know white supremacists, were early suspects, causing DA Gray to investigate the murder as a hate crime. The FBI was called in to assist in the investigation within 24 hours of Byrd’s remains being found. Echoes of lynchings throughout the South amplified the outrage surrounding Byrd’s hate crime murder. Brewer, King, and Berry were arrested, and eventually convicted of murder as a hate crime. Brewer and King were sentenced to death, and on September 21, 2011, Brewer was put to death by lethal injection. King awaits execution on death row. Berry was sentenced to life in prison. The Byrd Family opposed the death penalty for the men who killed their beloved James, believing that more deaths could never bring peace or closure to his murder. Only justice for everyone could.
In May 2001, Texas enacted the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into law. Because of advocacy within the Byrd Family, James Byrd Jr.’s name lent credibility to make the statute a gay-inclusive hate crimes protection law, and linked it to the Laramie, Wyoming anti-gay murder of Matthew Shepard. Then, after decades of advocacy, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, extending federal protections to LGBT people in America for the first time in history. Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of Matthew, were joined at the White House by Betty Bryd Boatner and Louvon Harris, sisters of James, for the signing ceremony. President Obama said:
“This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we’ve been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we’re all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation — (applause) — and all who toiled for years to reach this day.”
Then, the President underlined the ongoing significance of the Act named for James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard:
“You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights — both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.”
So, today, we remember James Byrd Jr. His death has not been in vain. The road toward full equality for all Americans is a long one. Many have died in the 15 years since the murders of Byrd and Shepard at the hands of irrational hatred. More will die, succumbing to injustices of the worst kind. But James Byrd Jr. is not forgotten, and his killers have not had the last word on his life. The struggle continues, and right is on the side of life and inclusion. This 15th anniversary of James Byrd Jr.’s death, we who believe in justice cannot allow ourselves to rest. We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes.
Seale, Alabama – Eastern Alabama police announce that a hate crime bomb plot targeting gay and black classmates of a 17-year-old white supremacist has been foiled in Russell County.
Authorities arrested Derek Shrout, a self-proclaimed white power advocate, last Friday, responding swiftly to threats to bomb Russell County High School written in Shrout’s own personal journal. The journal, carelessly left behind in a classroom by Shrout, fell into the hands of a teacher, who rushed the document into the hands of police investigators. According to WTVM-TV, Shrout threatened in his journal to harm six students and one teacher, citing hatred of blacks and gays as his motive. Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor told reporters, “The journal contained several plans that looked like potential terrorist attacks, and attacks of violence and danger on the school.” Five of the students Shrout specifically named were black. Shrout believed the sixth student he named was gay, also a class of persons the 17-year-old professed to hate.
Sheriff Taylor said that the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut were an inciting factor in Shrout’s intention to bomb the high school. The first entry showing the student’s intent to attack his school is on December 17, only three days after the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. Fox News reports that law enforcement officers discovered over 25 smokeless tobacco tins and two larger cans with holes drilled in them in Shrout’s rooms on Friday. The tins were filled with pellets, partially outfitted as homemade bombs and grenades. One of the tins was labeled “Fat Man,” and another “Little Boy,” apparently in emulation of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The improvised bombs were only “a step or two away from being ready to explode,” the Sheriff observed, going on to say that the quick thinking of school officials averted a horrible outcome. “The system worked and thank God, it did,” he said. “We avoided a very bad situation.”
In his own defense, Shrout claims that the entries in his journal were fictions, and that he never intended to harm classmates or the teacher. He was held in custody on $75,000 bond on a felony charge of assault until a court appearance this Monday, when he made bail. The presiding judge released Shrout under the following conditions: he must remain at home; wear a GPS locator bracelet on his ankle; refrain from initiating contact with anyone connected to the school; and be monitored by a parent while on the Internet. A court date for the teen has been set for February 12.
Shrout, who moved to Alabama from Kansas with his military family, had become well-known in Russell County High for his anti-gay and racist views. Classmates noted that he and a circle of other white supremacist friends often espoused white power propaganda, and gave each other the Nazi salute. Senior Class President David Kelly is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “In the hallway, at breakfast, at the lunch tables, after school where we have our bus parking lot, he’d have his big old group of friends and they’d go around doing the whole white power crazy stuff.”
Authorities say that the teen was involved in neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, and had learned bomb making from the internet. Now his classmates are expressing anger and frustration at Shrout’s intended attack on their school. David White, who used to hang out with Shrout after JROTC meetings, exclaimed to reporters, “Why would you want to go to a school and blow it up? You know you’re going to hit somebody else; you’re not just going to, in particular, hit one person. You’re going to injure more than one.”
Arlington, Virginia – Klansmen joined in a counter-protest attempting to screen military funerals from a Westboro Baptist Church picket at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. The Fred Phelps-founded protestors, made infamous by their “God Hates Fags” campaign and their more recent demonstrations at the funerals of fallen United States military servicemembers, found themselves confronted by a number of members of the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist KKK cell based in Powhatan, Virginia, according to the Hatewatch post of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Including the KKK, 70 counter-protestors waved American flags and held up pro-USA signs, blocking the funerals in progress from the demonstrators holding signs brandishing such slogans as “Fag Nation,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God for IED’s,” typical of the anti-American message propounded by the Topeka, Kansas Baptist church in its continuing opposition to “homosexual lifestyles.”
Dennis LaBonte, spokesperson for the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers, said that their counter-protest was in defense of freedom of speech and in support of the U.S. military. LaBonte told reporters that it was the military in this country that fought to defend the rights of groups like Phelps’s Topeka, Kansas church which recently successfully defended itself before the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit brought by the parent of a Marine killed in combat–a soldier whose funeral had been picketed by the Westboro zealots to condemn the “fag-enabling ways” of the nation. “It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right,” LaBonte said. Responding to the Klan counter-protestors, Abigail Phelps, an attorney as are many of her siblings, complained to CNN that people should not “idolize” soldiers who died in national service, or anyone else who died in an “unrighteous cause.” When directly asked about her reaction to the presence of KKK members in opposition to the Westboro Baptist demonstration, she told the reporter, “They have no moral authority on anything.” According to yourblackworld.com, Phelps went on to say, “People like them say it’s white power … white supremacy. The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.”
Nationalism makes strange bedfellows, indeed–enlisting bigots in competing demonstrations against other bigots. No one in the LGBTQ community is under any illusion about the feelings of the KKK toward them, however. As the SPLC points out, the Klan hates gay people only slightly less than they hate Jews, African Americans, and “mongrel races.” As one blog commentator wrote, “On the one hand, this could be laughable, but it is not. One could also [take this news] with a grain of salt. Neither side are LGBT friendly. Let them fight among themselves.”