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A Night of Executions


(Cross-posted at Prison Fellowship Blog)

On the night of September 21, as the nation focused on the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, another man was being executed in Texas. Unlike the Davis case, there was little question about the guilt of the prisoner, and little outcry over his execution.

Pat Nolan, writing in Huffington Post, recalls Lawrence Brewer. In 1998 Brewer, along with John King and Sean Berry, chained James Byrd to the back of a pickup and dragged him to his death. The three white men had no grudge against Byrd, except for the fact that he was black. They chose their victim at random.

A point that has received little attention is the role that prison rape played in this awful crime. What does prison rape have to do with Mr. Byrd's death? A lot, says Nolan.

John King, the ringleader of the white supremacists who murdered James Byrd, didn't start out a criminal and racist. As a teenager, King was a small-time thief sent to prison for burglary. Upon his arrival at the prison, the 140-pound kid was placed in the wing of the prison controlled by black gang members. His reception there was nothing short of brutal.

After at least two weeks of being raped by the black gang members, King was desperate to be rescued from this abuse. The white supremacists in the prison offered him protection, and arranged for his transfer to their "skinhead" section. For the remaining years of his sentence, King's new benefactors cultivated and developed a deep hatred and mistrust of black people.

Soon after his release from prison, King was drinking with some racist friends, including Brewer and Berry. Fueled by alcohol and hate, they decided to look for a black man to kill. James Byrd was the first black man they came across.

John King and Lawrence Brewer were each sentenced to death, while their accomplice Berry was sentenced to life in prison. King still awaits his execution.

James Byrd's murder could have been avoided. While weeks of being raped doesn't excuse the awful crime John Williams organized, it does explain how a young man could be filled with so much hate. Nolan writes:

As long as young men and women are viciously raped in America's prisons society will have to deal with the consequences suffered by the rape victims, such as depression, drug abuse, suicides, and, yes, even murders as the victims of prison rape try to deal with the demons inside of them that return with each memory of their abuse.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that at least 60,000 inmates are raped each year. By ending prison rape, we may be able to prevent hate crimes such as the one involving James Byrd.

Read the full Huffington Post article here and find more resources for helping deal with prison violence here.

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