Black Americans still are victims of hate crimes more than any other group
Just 100 hate crimes have been pursued by federal prosecutors nationwide between January 2010 and July 2018, according to a News21 analysis of court documents. Half of those cases involved racially motivated violence against black Americans, more than any other group.
JASPER, Texas — Former Texas prosecutor Guy James Gray keeps a 20-year-old CD in his desk that documents with graphic photos one of the most vicious hate crimes in history — the day James Byrd Jr. was beaten, stripped naked, tied to the back of a truck by three men from the Ku Klux Klan, and dragged down a dirt road until he was dead and decapitated.
"When you handle a case like that and get inside the mind of a real racist, a white supremacist racist, and you see how dangerous those people are to the fabric of our society, you just become more sensitive to racial issues," Gray said.
In 2009, Byrd became one of the namesakes for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law expanding hate crime legislation to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
But just 100 hate crimes have been pursued by federal prosecutors nationwide between January 2010 and July 2018, according to a News21 analysis of court documents. Half of those cases involved racially motivated violence against black Americans — more than any other group.
The numbers do not include hundreds of other cases prosecuted in local and state courts. No single agency tracks those arrests or cases, although incidents are supposed to be reported to the FBI by state and local police. Since 1995, black Americans have been the victims of 66 percent of all racially motivated hate crimes, according to FBI data collected from local law enforcement agencies.
"You still see it all over, in all the cities and in the rural places, it's still with us," said Gray, an attorney in Kerrville.
While black Americans have long been targets of hate, advocacy groups and victims told News21 that the 2016 presidential campaign and the election of President Trump may have encouraged more people to express intolerance toward black Americans.
"When this president campaigned, it was a campaign of division and bigotry," said Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. "And so, those people who believe in discrimination of any kind gravitated to that campaign. After the election, they feel emboldened to act out these statements that have racial overtones in them."
Christina Crowder was driving down the expressway in Houston with her two biracial daughters in the backseat last year when a car pulled up next to her and the driver opened his windows. He started shouting phrases like "Go back to [expletive] Africa" and "Trump should build a wall for you n—," then began to swerve toward her, she said. "I've been living in Houston for my whole life, and I hadn't experienced things like that."
From the American South to cities across America, federal hate crimes against black Americans in recent years have ranged from brutal beatings and violent killings to burning churches, firebombing homes and outspoken threats of harm.
"It has always been that way," said Booker T. Hunter, 89, founder and president of the NAACP in Jasper for the past 40 years. "The history of [Byrd's] death, people never, never going to forget about it. We really haven't healed from that since. It's still going on."
For those 50 federal hate crimes targeting black Americans, News21 reviewed hundreds of court documents and indictments to determine just how often perpetrators were prosecuted under federal hate crime statutes. Many perpetrators had affiliations with white supremacist groups or invoked "white power" during acts of violence and verbal harassment.
During a Bible study meeting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., three years ago, a young white supremacist shot and killed nine black parishioners. Dylann Roof was convicted on 33 federal hate crime charges and sentenced to death for the attack.
In Dubuque, Iowa, that same year, charges were brought against a white man with a swastika tattoo who assaulted a black American man and repeatedly kicked and jumped on his head until he was unconscious, according to federal court records.
In June 2011, a group of white teenagers drove around Jackson, Miss., harassing black Americans. They found 48-year-old James Craig Anderson in a motel parking lot and attacked him, shouting "white power."
Security footage shows that when Anderson tried to stand after the attack, they ran him over with a pickup truck and killed him. Three were convicted of one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Shepard-Byrd Act.
Mississippi State Sen. Barbara Blackmon, a Democrat, said Anderson's killing made her "wonder just how far we've come."
"I am aware of that James Byrd incident, and each time something like that occurs, whether it's in Mississippi or in any place across this country, if you are a student of history, if you have any kind of conscience, then those kinds of horrific things should make you feel very uncomfortable," Blackmon said.
Despite the passage of hate crime legislation and civil rights protections, black Americans disproportionately face acts of intimidation, extremist rhetoric and life-threatening violence.
She said the country has "not yet overcome that history."
Reliving history of hate
In early 2016, Jordan Williams found the n-word written twice in black permanent marker on the wall outside his apartment in Denton.
"My parents experienced this in the '60s and '70s, and we talked about how we could be judged for the color of our skin," he said. "All these years later, they took it really hard to hear what happened to me. I don't think they expected it to happen to me."
Although black Americans are targeted in hate crimes more than any other group, according to available data from the FBI, only about 2 percent of total hate crimes are reported to the bureau, according to the NAACP. That means no one really knows how many times black Americans have been victims of hate.
"Even the data that we have can be misleading, and it's useful for seeing trends maybe from year to year, assuming that nothing changes in terms of our reporting and how we report," said Kevin Buckler, a criminal justice professor at the University of Houston. "But I don't know if it's a true indication of the number of criminal events that are motivated by hatred."
Dena Marks, the senior associate director for the Southwest Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said political tensions in America are prompting people to publicly act on or express their hate and biases. She said she has seen an increase in hate crime victims and incidents at the ADL in Houston.
"Hate is always there under the surface, but sometimes people hate more openly," Marks said. "We still have a long, long way to go. Since the civil rights movement, I think we've come a little ways since then because of laws, but I don't think as people we're much farther along."
A 2018 report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes reported to police in the 10 largest cities in America increased by 12.5 percent in 2017, marking the fourth consecutive annual rise in a row and the highest spike in more than a decade. In 2017, anti-black crimes were among the most common in the nation's 10 largest cities, according to the study.
On a June morning this year Debra Davis, a black woman in Clio, Mich., and her ex-husband woke up to find racial slurs spray-painted on her family's 2011 Chevrolet Silverado, including the n-word and "white power."
"I don't think that the people that perpetuate crimes against black people have changed," Davis said. "The only thing that's changed is you have a person in the White House that accepts you saying that's how you feel."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said Trump's administration and the Justice Department are "committed to reducing violent crime and making America safe."
"As you know, hate crimes are violent crimes," Sessions said at last year's Hate Crimes Summit in Washington. "No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are and what they believe, or how they worship. So I pledge to you: As long as I am attorney general, the Department of Justice will continue to protect the civil rights of all Americans — and we will not tolerate targeting of any community in our country."
News21 reporters Brooks Hepp, Megan Ross, Justin Parham and Lenny Martinez Dominguez contributed to this article.
This story was reported in partnership with ProPublica's Documenting Hate Project., which is collecting reports about hate crimes and bias incidents. If you've been a victim or a witness, tell us your story here.