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Racists Get Light Treatment in East Texas

The four white men who beat an African American unconscious and left him for dead near Linden, Texas, received incredibly light sentences from an all-white jury on May 13. Two received plea-bargained 30 days. The other two were awarded suspended sentences by the jury, but the presiding judge added a 30 day for one and 60 days for the other. All four received fines, with the maximum being $4,000. The victim suffered brain injury and cannot walk unassisted nor carry out other normal functions. East Texans consider it a victory that the perpetrators had to stand trial at all!

According to NAACP representatives speaking on KNON radio's "Workers Beat" program May 18, here is what took place: The white men were having a "pasture party" in the countryside near Linden, which is about 150 miles east of Dallas. One of them went into the town to get party supplies, and decided that it would be fun to take slightly-retarded Billy Ray Johnson back to his friends as entertainment. During the evening, Billy Ray Johnson was beaten senseless. The men later claimed, and the jury apparently agreed, that only one of the men had hit Johnson only one time.

NAACP representative Bill Glenn said the four thought Johnson was dead, so they took his limp form to a nearby dump and left it on an ant bed. No attempt was made to help Johnson, but one of the four men returned later and pretended to stumble over Johnson's inert form. Finding Johnson alive, the man drove him to the local hospital, which refused the African American man service. Instead, they put him in a taxi! Johnson ended up in a nursing home, as he could no longer function.

Local law enforcement people and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were called. They refused to categorize the four men's actions as a "hate crime," which would carry an additional sentence. Instead, they filed only minor charges against the perpetrators. Later, the jury dismissed all the charges except misdemeanor assault against one man; the others were only sentenced for helping him hide the body.

During his interview, Bill Glenn said that filing federal charges for hate crimes, civil rights violations, or under the Americans With Disabilities Act has become progressively more difficult and unlikely since 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan was elected President. The many East Texans that he has talked to felt that any kind of charges at all were a big advance over "white business as usual" racism in the region. Dallas NAACP President Bob Lydia said that East Texans were afraid even to talk with NAACP representatives, "That community has an attitude that I haven't seen!"

Glenn and Lydia recalled other East Texas cases in which justice was very hard to obtain. For example, the young white man who chained H.W. Walker to a tree and burned him to death with gasoline served barely a year in juvenile detention. "He's walking around East Texas today," Glenn said.

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