Sunday marked the 22nd anniversary of the murder of James Byrd, Jr., a black man who was lynched by three white supremacists in Texas on June 7, 1998.
The occasion was marked by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a statement:
Today is the 22-year mark of the horrific hate crime that took the life of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. On June 7, 1998, Mr. Byrd, a Black 49-year-old father of three, had just left a friend’s anniversary party and was walking home, when a pickup truck with three white supremacists in it stopped and picked him up. The next morning Mr. Byrd’s body was found – he had been beaten, chained to the truck, and dragged to death.
Today, the federal hate crimes law, passed in 2009, is known as the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” (Mathew Shepard was a young gay man killed the same year.) Texas also has a hate crimes statute that bears James Byrd, Jr.’s name.
But that law was not signed by Gov. George W. Bush, the governor at the time of the murder. It was signed by his successor, Gov. Rick Perry, in 2001.
Bush’s reluctance to support the Texas hate crimes law was based on the argument that existing laws against murder made additional laws unnecessary, given the death penalty. And yet he was vilified by his political opponents for his position.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released a hard-hitting ad towards the end of the deadlocked 2000 presidential campaign featuring Byrd’s daughter. It showed a chain being dragged by a pickup truck as she intoned: “When Gov George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.”
Republicans argued that the tone of the ad was unfair. But to Democrats, the tactic of demonizing Republicans as racists was nothing new: Bush would not be the first, and he would not be the last.
Last week, Bush supported the Black Lives Matter protests — which had been mired by violence and looting, and have become politicized against President Donald Trump.
Bush declared: “Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason. Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions.”
His statement added fuel to the political fire and led to speculation that Bush might vote against Trump in 2020.
But Trump has done nothing like Bush did in the late 1990s. On the contrary, Trump pushed for — and signed — criminal justice reform legislation; funded historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); created Opportunity Zones in black communities; pardoned the late heavyweight Jack Johnson, unjustly convicted of violating miscegenation laws; and made black employment a key coal of his economic agenda.
In the George Floyd case, Trump immediately called for the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to expedite their inquiry into his death — before there were protests and looting.
Trump’s record on race relations is far better than Bush’s — yet Bush has evidently joined the bandwagon of the “woke.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.