Today is the 15th anniversary of the murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper. Three men picked Byrd up in a bar and after they left, beat him, hooked him by a chain to the back of their pickup and dragged him to his death. Because of the horrific nature of the crime, the story received international attention.
After Byrd’s death, Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby Executive Director Dianne Hardy Garcia met with the Byrd family. She had been working almost a decade tracking hate crimes, attending the trials of those indicted on murder charges in bias cases and lobbying the Legislature to enact a hate-crime penalty-enhancement law.
Hardy Garcia explained to the Byrds that a hate crime bill would pass if it didn’t include sexual orientation. Byrd’s mother asked if gays and lesbians were targets of hate crimes. Hardy Garcia showed her the statistics.
“No family should have to go through what my family went through,” Mrs. Byrd told Hardy Garcia.
The Byrds became staunch allies of the LGBT community and insisted sexual orientation remain in the bill.
Despite the national attention the Byrd case brought to Texas, the Legislature blocked any attempt to pass a hate crime bill in 1999 as Gov. George W. Bush campaigned for president.
However, the 2001 Texas Legislature passed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Law and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an LGBT-inclusive federal hate crimes law, called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The three men involved in the murder were arrested. Lawrence Brewer was executed. John William King is on death row. Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence.
Fox 26 Houston talked to members of the Byrd family and discussed the background of the murderers on the 10th anniversary of Byrd’s death: