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 a plea-bargained sentence of 30 days. The jury awarded the other two suspended sentences, but the presiding judge added a 30-day sentence for one and 60 days for the other. All four received fines, the maximum being $4,000. The victim suffered brain injury and cannot walk unassisted or carry out other normal functions. Yet, East Texans consider it a victory that the perpetrators had to stand trial at all!

NAACP representatives, speaking on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program May 18, said the white men were having a “pasture party” near Linden, about 150 miles east of Dallas. One went into town to get party supplies, and decided it would be fun to take slightly-retarded Billy Ray Johnson back to his friends as entertainment. During the evening, Johnson was beaten senseless. The men later claimed that only one of them hit Johnson, only once.

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 man 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.

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

Glenn said filing federal charges for hate crimes, civil rights violations, or under the Americans With Disabilities Act has become progressively more difficult since 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Dallas NAACP President Bob Lydia said East Texans were afraid even to talk with NAACP representatives.

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.