Over this last month I have had the privilege of meeting members of two families significantly impacted by hate crimes – family members of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard. In 1998, both of these men had their lives cut tragically short because of senseless hatred.. Mr. Byrd was an African-American man who was dragged to his death in Jasper, TX; Mr. Shepard was a young gay man brutally beaten to death in Laramie, WY.
Officer Jamie Byrd is Mr. Byrd’s youngest child. In the years after her father’s brutal murder, she decided to join the ranks of those who enforce the law, becoming a proud Houston Police Officer. Officer Byrd addressed an ADL hate crimes conference on September 17th; she proudly and poignantly reminded us all that her father’s murder so impacted our state and country that the Texas and federal hate crime laws bear his name. In the face of such a violent and tragic loss, Officer Byrd chose a life’s path to serve and protect the community.
Judy and Dennis Shepard are Matthew’s parents. Following his murder, they chose to work tirelessly in advocating for a federal hate crimes law. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), was signed into law. Mr. & Mrs. Shepard addressed law enforcement professionals on September 24th, at a hate crimes conference. As part of the program, I was invited to present an ADL workshop; the day-long training was sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas and the Dallas Division of the FBI.
Officer Byrd and Mr and Mrs. Shepard are remarkable role models for us all. They suffered unspeakable loss of their loved ones – losses which were violent and fueled by hatred. Rather than spend their lives being angry or looking for revenge, they have, instead, turned their energies to working to make our communities and our world a better place; they work to educate others to the importance of treating every person with dignity and respect hand-in-hand with supporting state and federal laws which pursue perpetrators of hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.
ADL stands proudly with the Byrd and Shepard families. We are both deeply sorry for their loss of loved ones and deeply grateful to them for their efforts to work towards a world without hate. I feel so fortunate that I got to meet Officer Byrd and Mr. & Mrs. Shepard to express my personal appreciation for their life’s work. Their inspiring efforts in the face of devastating loss encourage us to Imagine a World Without Hate ®.
Roberta S. Clark
ADL NorthTexas/Oklahoma Regional Office