Jasper fears revenge for Byrd murder

The Ku Klux Klan is planning a rally June 27 in Jasper, Texas, less than three weeks after the horrible murder of James Byrd Jr. Byrd’s body was torn to pieces after three white men chained and dragged him more than two miles behind their truck. Spokesmen for the Klan claim the rally is to convince the citizens of Jasper, and the nation, that they have no connection to the slaying. The three suspects are allegedly tied to racist groups, associations made while serving prior prison terms.
Meanwhile, more than 500 residents, including civil rights leaders and politicians, gathered to mourn the terrible loss of James Byrd. Apparently, once is not enough. A black man in Slidell, La., reported only a few days ago that three white men dragged him beside their car, not unlike what happened to Byrd. White supremacist groups are once again implicated. After Byrd’s funeral, approximately 15 gun-toting black men marched through the streets denouncing his murder. The Rev. Jesse Jackson wisely requests the citizens of Jasper and the country to choose redemption over retaliation. The prosecution has already called for the death penalty. The death penalty is not a solution. When gun-toting militant blacks meet head on with the knights of the Klan, justice could cease to exist altogether.
President Clinton declares that the guilty will be brought to justice, but in Texas, the justice he speaks of might very well come in the form of increased violence for the residents of Jasper, and lethal injections for the killers. On the surface, it appears that most blacks and whites in Jasper get along fairly well. But some people are suspicious of an insidious undercurrent, the very one that has divided this country racially for decades.
Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association and dozens more organizations are pleading the nation for a moratorium on the death penalty. Texas is notorious for racial violence and the death penalty, and of the 74 executions in 1997, 37 took place in Texas alone. After the Furman vs. United States case ending the death penalty in 1972, only four years later was the death penalty reinstated. Since then, the United States has executed more than 400 prisoners, with Texas accounting for one-third of the total. Out of the 144 prisoners executed in Texas from 1977 to 1997, 88 percent were executed for the killing of a white victim. Jasper lies in a region with a history of black lynchings, and an arson epidemic now plagues black churches throughout the south.
With black militants and the Ku Klux Klan standing in the shadows, any further killings will result in a classic Hatfield-McCoy feud, with each side trading murder for murder. America has made great efforts toward ending racism, but clearly, the war is not over. And it will certainly not end by state-sanctioned murder in the form of revenge. If it is emotion that drives the state toward the death penalty, this will be no different than the emotion that drives the Ku Klux Klan, or any other hate group toward acts of violence. Whites in Jasper are apparently just as appalled by the killing as blacks. Fortunately, most residents of Jasper, black and white, are unified in such a way as to bring hope against the rising tide of potential violence.