By Jack C., 6th Grade, Krieger Schechter Day School of Chizuk Amuno Congregation
The tragic story of James Byrd Jr. is inscribed in many people’s minds and memories. In 1998 in Jasper, Texas, Byrd, a black man, was fatally beaten and dragged from the back of a pickup truck. Three white men, Lawrence Russell Brewer, Shawn Berry and John William King, were found guilty of this brutal crime. In April, King was executed by lethal injection for his role in this crime. He was the second of the three assailants to be executed.
While there is a stronger sense of equality in America today, racism still exists. Erica Allen, a middle-school Judaics teacher at Krieger Schechter Day School said, “[Byrd’s] killing speaks to historic racism in America, which is still present even though it happened back in the ‘90s.” Allen states that racism is not a historical problem, and although it is much less accepted in our current times, it is still a major factor in America today.
According to Marc Cohen, a KSDS parent, “A hate crime against religion or race or for any reason has to have a significant punishment. [Byrd’s lynching] was a disgusting crime that killed an innocent person for no reason at all, and the people responsible for his death have to be punished to the maximum.”
Allen and Cohen agree that people today are working hard to eliminate such acts of violence from our society. “The hope [is] that people [will] see that these kinds of acts are not tolerated in society today,” Allen said. After the death penalty was enforced on King, the hope was that terrorist groups across the United States will see that there are consequences to these actions.
While in office, former President Barak Obama passed a hate crime prevention act called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the definition of hate crimes to include crimes committed because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, disability, etc.
After the death penalty was employed for King and Brewer, the hope is these terrorist acts will stop and that America will be free for people of all religions, races and genders. About 133 years after the end of slavery and 44 years after segregation, we see, with the Byrd killing that America is not free from racism. After the assassins were executed, the hope is people will start to realize that we do not tolerate this in our society today. If people do not want to follow the law, there will be suffering and severe punishments.