DRAFT TITLE: Taking a Stand against Hate
The brutal 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., an African American man, in Jasper, TX was motivated by nothing other than senseless hate. The same can be said of the fatal stabbing of 15 year old Sakia Gunn in Newark, NJ. The lives of these two individuals were taken without regard for what they meant to their community, friends and families.
The history of America is littered with pain and violence, yet even from the shadows of these dark and tragic events we still find hope and inspiration. The brutal deaths of James Byrd Jr. and Sakia Gunn shocked the country and brought about a dialogue on hate-based violence in communities across the nation. Their stories should continue to serve as agents for positive change that embody why we must all value the sacredness of other human beings and celebrate diversity among us.
The attackers in both cases were convicted of murder. They were not however, charged with a hate crime because at the time there were no laws dealing with such situations. Thankfully the lives of James and Sakia would not be taken in vain; the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2009. This law keeps their memory alive by helping protect the lives and dignity of others. The measure expands the federal hate-crime law to include offenses motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was a momentous shift in the protection of all Americans but, much more still needs to be done. Hate crimes are meant not only to break bones but to break spirits. We all must be committed to freeing the world from hate by never forgetting James and Sakia’s stories. While establishing laws to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans is vital to the future of equality, ultimately there must also be a change in cultural attitudes. Even though America has made significant progress, people continue to encounter bias and violence in our schools, offices, government and neighborhoods. Opening our hearts and minds will have the deepest and most meaningful impact for people who have faced discrimination and bias for their entire lives.
These stories are just a few of the countless examples of egregious discrimination that occurs in our communities. From offhand stereotypes in daily conversations to physical acts of aggression, intolerance can take many forms and regrettably remains prevalent across the country. While we will never know James and Sakia’s final thoughts or what they would have achieved in life, their deaths are a catalyst to root out hate. Next time you witness intolerance, honor their legacies by doing the right thing and standing up for all people. Small contributions do make a difference. Be an ally and take a stand against hate.
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