No Hate Crime Charges For Men Who Beat Texas Man
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 7, 2005
LINDEN, TEXAS--Last month, a jury gave light sentences to four white men who beat a 42-year-old black man unconscious and left him for dead near a remote dump.
None of the men were charged with violating the federal civil rights of Billy Ray Johnson, however, because investigators said the crime was motivated by his mental disabilities instead of his race.
One night in September 2003, one of the men brought Johnson, who was described as functioning "at the level of a 12-year-old", to a pasture where several white youths were drinking. According to news reports based on court documents, the men teased Johnson, got him drunk, made him dance for them, called him racial slurs, and made him pull burning logs from a fire.
"He was having a good time, drinking," said one witness. "Then they started making fun of him a little bit, making him dance. It was kind of to have someone to amuse them, to make a monkey out of him."
At one point Johnson was struck in the face and knocked unconscious. The men then loaded him into the back of a pickup truck and dumped his body alongside a dirt road -- on top of a mound of stinging fire ants.
Johnson sustained a brain hemorrhage and was in a coma for a week. His body was covered with hundreds of ant bites. The attack also permanently affected his speech and mobility.
On May 13, the all-white jury gave two of the men suspended sentences. The judge added a 30-day sentence for one of them and a 60-day sentence for the other. The other two men plea-bargained for sentences of just 30 days. All four were ordered to pay fines of up to $4,000.
According to the Chicago Tribune, federal agents and local prosecutors did not charge the men under federal hate crimes laws because they could prove that the men were motivated by the color of Johnson's skin, rather than his mental retardation.
"This was a bunch of guys who were mean-spirited and cruel, and they abused a black man who was retarded," Malcolm Bales, chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office in Marshall, Texas, told the Tribune.
"That's terrible," Bales said. "But it doesn't give rise to a federal civil rights case."
"Old South racism lives in Texas town" (Chicago Tribune)
"Racism in East Texas" (People's Weekly World)
"Commentary: Hey, Jesse -- When Youre Done with Michael, Please Get to Linden, Texas" (Black American Web)