During the race for Harris County District Attorney, then-candidate Kim Ogg charged DA Devon Anderson with dropping the ball on prosecuting hate crimes. We decided to dig deeper, as part of News 88.7’s year-long initiative, DiverseCity.
In 1998, three white men – John William King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry – kidnapped a 49-year-old African-American man named James Byrd Jr., in Jasper, Texas. The three chained Byrd to a pick-up truck and dragged him for three miles, killing him. That crime led to the passage of Texas’s hate crimes law in 2001, as well as the federal hate crimes statute, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, in 2009. Both raise the level of punishment for any crime in which the victim is targeted because of prejudice.
“If we have an aggravated assault, which is a second-degree felony, and we can prove it’s a hate crime, it gets bumped up to a first degree, and we get the higher range of punishment,” says Harris County DA Devon Anderson.
Physical evidence alone – say, a bloodstain or a stray fiber – can link an attacker to a victim. But proving hatred as the motive for an attack is often much harder.
“We have to prove that the reason that the person or the groups of people were targeted was because of their race, or their color, or their gender, or their national origin. That’s an added element we have to prove,” says Ruben Perez, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas.
Even when an attacker makes finding such proof easy, victims aren’t always willing to cooperate.
Conrad Alvin Barrett was driving through Katy in November 2013. He stopped when he saw an elderly black man named Roy Coleman. The following sound is from a video Barrett took on his cellphone, later released to the media:
“The plan is to see, if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?”
“How’re you doing? Yeah? Yeah? Knockout!”
When Coleman went to a senior’s center the next day, workers there saw he was in agony, his face deformed. They notified his daughter.
“He was then taken to the hospital,” says Perez. “Turns out his jaw had been broken in two places. He was missing three teeth. He had not even reported it to the police.”