By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –
(FinalCall.com) - As candidates from both parties line up to run and unseat President Barack Obama in 2012, some in the Black community are being forced to face the reality that race relations in America have not improved. Others were never under that illusion.
“I truly thought things might evolve racially with Obama in office. But I've watched even more racism spew from White folks, the Tea Party, and Republicans. I've watched them attack Michelle Obama and even read about all of the assassination attempts against her husband. It's sad,” Deborah Rogers, 60, told The Final Call.
Rogers says she stood in line for hours in Houston to vote for President Obama over two years ago in hopes that a change was on the horizon. “I feel like we're going backwards. A ‘post-racial America' was only a mirage,” she said.
“Black people got mesmerized by the Obama phenomenon. However, when it comes to the continuous heinous crimes done to Blacks and Hispanics in this country, the scales of justice remain unbalanced,” Kofi Taharka, national chairman of the National Black United Front, told The Final Call.
Reflecting on the 13th anniversary of the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., Taharka says “much hasn't really changed since in terms of the treatment of Black people. But no matter who is in office we can't stop addressing the issues.”
On May 31, a Texas district judge ordered a Sept. 21 execution date for Lawrence Brewer, one of three White men convicted for the murder of Mr. Byrd in Jasper, Texas. John William King is expected to be executed as well and Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence for involvement in the crime.
“I'm against the death penalty and I would rather see them locked up for life and rot inside the prison to think about what they did,” said filmmaker Eligah Jason of Beaumont, Texas.
Jason directed an award-winning documentary on the life and tragic death of Byrd. “We wanted to let people know about who he was as a family man and not let this story die,” he said.
The 49-year-old Byrd was chained by his ankles to the rear of a truck and dragged along a rural road on June 7, 1998. Mr. Byrd's head and right arm were severed while his torso was dumped near a cemetery in Jasper County.
“Just because Texas has set an execution date for Lawrence Brewer, people should not think that this state all of a sudden cares about ending racism and addressing hate crimes,” said Gloria Rubac, of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.
“Racism is one of the weapons used by capitalists. This execution will not improve race relations when the system is making ugly attacks on the poor in education and immigration. We need a top down shift,” said Rubac.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law in October 2009 by President Obama.
The act authorizes the federal government to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The bill also gives the federal government jurisdiction over prosecuting hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate or when local authorities are unwilling or do not have the resources to do so themselves.
Attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz only sees it as a piece of paper that does not serve justice for the poor.
“The use and application of this act has been slow and disappointing. The local and state authorities have done a horrible job in bringing these hate crime laws into prosecution. Since President Obama has been elected there has been a noted increase in hate crimes and racist acts toward Blacks and Hispanics,” said Shabazz, who heads the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The U.S. Justice Department announced that Frankie Maybee, 20, of Green Forest, Arkansas, was convicted on May 19 by a federal jury of five counts of committing a federal hate crime and one count of conspiring to commit a federal hate crime. Co-defendant Sean Popejoy pleaded guilty to one count of committing a federal hate crime and one count of conspiring to commit a federal hate crime.
This is the first conviction at trial for a violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
“The defendants targeted five men because they were Hispanic, and today's verdict shows that the Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting individuals who perform acts of hate because of someone's race or national origin,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
According to the Justice Department, on June 20, 2010, Maybee and Popejoy threatened and injured five Hispanic men who pulled into a gas station parking lot. The co-conspirators taunted the victims causing them to run off the road, and crash into a tree. The victims survived but suffered injuries.
“We will continue to use the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and every other tool in our law enforcement arsenal, to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever they occur,” said Perez.
Blacks, Hispanics still victimized more
A November 2010 report by the FBI showed there were 8,336 victims of hate crimes the previous year. Over 4,000 of those crimes were race related and Blacks represented nearly 72 percent of the victims. Hispanics accounted for 62 percent of those victimized due to ethnicity or national origin.
Of the 6,225 known offenders, 62.4 percent were White, 18.5 percent were Black, and 7.3 percent were groups of individuals of various races, the report said.
Shabazz is quick to remind people about the case of Anthony Hill, who was shot in the head, tied up and dragged several miles by White male Gregory Collins early last June, according to South Carolina authorities in Newberry County.
“No hate crime charge was made. Gregory Collins took a plea deal and was sentenced to eight years in prison,” said Shabazz.
Also in June of last year, the Orange County sheriff's office in Beaumont, Texas reported that 35-year-old White male William Baker Bibb confessed to killing 26-year-old Theresa Ardoin, who was Black. Bibb allegedly dragged her body a quarter of a mile behind his pickup truck. Authorities said the two were in a relationship and there was no evidence the incident was a hate crime.
In September 2008, Brandon McClelland was dragged nearly 70 feet up and down a county road in Paris, Texas. Two White males, one of whom was allegedly a close friend, were accused of the crime. All of the charges against Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley were dropped.
A lot of questions are still lingering in Mississippi over how 26-year-old Frederick Jermaine Carter lost his life. The body of Carter was found Dec. 3, 2010 hanging from an oak tree in the predominately White North Greenwood area of Leflore County.
Despite local authorities ruling it a suicide based on a preliminary autopsy report from the Leflore County coroner's office, the victim's family, Black politicians, residents, and community activists haven't accept that declaration as the truth. No suspects have been charged.
Student Minister Robert Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, was in attendance at the emotional funeral of Byrd over a decade ago. “We have to revitalize and reenergize our grassroots movement for justice regardless of who is running or who is elected in 2012,” he said.