While most of the press was focused on last week's execution of Troy David in Georgia, the same night another prisoner was executed halfway across the country in Texas. Most people remember the crime the second man committed, but not his name. It was Lawrence Brewer, and he was one of three white bigots who chained a black man, James Byrd, to the back of a pickup and dragged him to his death. They had no grudge against Byrd except that he was black. They chose their victim at random.
One factor in this crime that has received little attention is the role that prison rape played in this awful crime. You may ask "What does rape in prison have to do with Mr. Byrd's death?" The answer is, a lot.
The ringleader of the racist thugs who murdered James Byrd, was John King, who had recently been released from prison. Mr. King didn't start out a vicious criminal and a racist. He was a teenage, small-time thief, sent to prison for burglary. When he arrived at prison the slight (140 lbs.) youngster was placed in the "black" wing of the prison. He was placed there deliberately by a guard as a favor to a gang of White Power inmates. They wanted the "fresh fish" to be worked over by black gangsters so that he would be ready to accept the "protection" of the white power gang. And work him over they did; John Williams's life became a living hell. For two weeks the black gang member's gang raped him day and night. At that point he was desperate to be rescued from his nightmare of abuse. The white power gang "offered" him protection, and arranged with the guard to transfer him to their skinhead section. For the remaining years of his sentence the white power thugs filled the young man's head with hate for black people. Tortured by the memories of his two weeks of unrelenting sodomizing, he was ripe for their message.
Soon after his release from prison, he was drinking with some skinhead friends, and fueled by booze and hate he suggested that they find a black man to kill. James Byrd was unfortunately the first black man they came across. And they brutally killed him.
John Williams and Lawrence Brewer were sentenced to death, and their third accomplice was sentenced to life. Last week Brewer was executed for his awful crime. John Williams, the burglar/rape victim/ringleader, awaits his date with the executioner.
Could James Byrd's murder have been avoided? I think so. 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. 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.
While late night comedians like to giggle about prison rape, it is no joke. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 60,000 inmates are raped each year. Congress has acted firmly to stamp out this awful aspect of prison life. They passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act which calls for standards to hold prison officials accountable for preventing prison rape. You can help insure that tough standards are adopted. Find out more at Justice Fellowship's Prison Rape Resource Page.
By ending prison rape, we may also prevent hateful crimes such as was visited upon James Byrd.