Monday, May 28, 2007

Billy Ray Johnson Finally "Won"

Billy Ray Johnson, a developmentally disabled African-American man in his forties was beaten almost to death in 2003 by a bunch of young White guys at a Linden, Texas, "pasture party" (where they had "invited" him, apparently to provide the entertainment). As many of you probably know by now, Johnson was recently awarded $9 million dollars in a civil court case handled by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is a good thing, right? Of course, it is, but none of the perpetrators of this crime got more than 60 days in jail and I can't find anywhere who's gonna cough up the $9 million.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad they pushed the envelope. I'm glad the jury voted unanimously in Johnson's favor. And I'm glad he'll get whatever he does get however long it takes. He's going to need help to pay for the intensive care he's going to need for the rest of his life. But come on now, what makes this different from the day before the beating occurred? Do we really believe that liquored-up White boys in Linden, Texas, are not going to exercise their racist inclinations any more? Or are they just going to bury the bodies in the future - the way they used to?

The fact is that none of these good ol' boys went to prison, where they would have been doled out a regular dose of retribution in the general population, assuming they lived through the orientation process. They got off, just like Emmett Till's murderers got off in 1955. And Billy Ray Johnson and his family are the ones who will continue to suffer, not to mention other people of color who know better than to think this means they're protected by the laws in the U.S. of A.

How long are we going to insist on the idea that there's progress while White men can still walk away from a crime such as what they did to Johnson? How long are we going to pat ourselves on the back about the civil case, while criminal charges are not upheld? How long are we going to see this new verdict as a "win" for Billy Ray Johnson, who will live out the rest of his life in a nursing home?

Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school fired two teachers this spring for helping seventh graders plan a Black History Month program on the Emmett Till killing. The administrators wouldn't discuss the firings, but apparently, they felt the story was "too graphic" and one of them was quoted as saying, "We don't want to focus on how the history of the country has been checkered, but on how do we dress for success, walk proud, and celebrate all the accomplishments we've made." Well, at least everybody's on the same page, huh?


Professor Zero said...

The story is too graphic? The event was frickin' graphic!

Changeseeker said...

That was precisely my bead on it, as well!