In 1998, when James Byrd, Jr. was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death, the press exploded. The American public was outraged, and rightfully so. His captors and killers, three men between the ages of 23 and 31, and two of the men were known to be associated with the Ku Klux Klan in their small Texan town. Two of the men were ultimately sentenced to death, the third to life in prison. The media explosion made me question the constant evolution of news and media, and how this plays a major role in people’s perceptions of hate crimes, and crimes against humanity in general.
Rewind about 100 years, maybe 150. Between Emancipation and the Depression in the United States, over 3,000 African Americans were lynched in the American South. Instead of public outrage; however, people often rushed to the event, eager to watch and take part in the brutality. Take, for example, Langston Hughes’s short story Father and Son, included in his book The Ways of White Folks. In this story, 20-year-old Bert, the son of a white plantation owner and his slave, is commanded to return home from boarding school, only to find that his father still treats him coldly and without any respect. Still, Bert pushes the patience of his father and the white people of the town when he doesn’t act “right” towards them. Eventually, Bert and his father argue, his father has a gun, and Bert strangles him in a moment of rage. Unwilling to let the mob kill him, Bert decides to use his last bullet to kill himself in his father’s house. Unsatisfied with lynching an already-dead man, the mob goes after Bert’s uninvolved brother Willie, also the child of the plantation owner and Bert’s mother, and lynches him as well. Hughes ends the story flatly, illustrating the racist and careless reporting:
Bert Lewis was lynched last night, and his brother, Willie Lewis, today. The sheriff of the county is unable to identify any members of the mob. Colonel Norwood’s funeral has not yet been held. The dead man left no heirs.
Instead of the outrage that would be instantly voiced today, via Facebook, Twitter, or the general media, postcards depicting the grotesque act of lynching were sent around the country until about the 1940s. James Allen has collected many of these postcards, creating a book, film, and travelling exhibit around them. Rather than labeling these acts as terroristic and horrible, the postcards seem to trivialize the action. When people send postcards today, their purpose is usually to say “look where I’ve been, see what I saw”—so what does this say about the postcards?
This leads me to another question—consider the information overload that most people encounter everyday in 2011. While people are more aware than ever before of events happening internationally, there is so much information out there now that people have become almost numb to most of it. We’re so overloaded with images and stories, how can we even begin to feel like we’re helping or doing something about it? Most of the time, when people don’t want to deal with a problem, they refuse to see it. Is that why there’s still no anti-lynching law in the United States?
 “Third Defendant Is Convicted in Dragging Death in Texas.” The New York Times (19 November 1999). http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/19/us/third-defendant-is-convicted-in-dragging-death-in-texas.html?ref=jamesjrbyrd (accessed March 11, 2011)
 “Lynchings, By State and Race, 1882-1968.” Charles Chestnutt Digital Archive (2001).http://faculty.berea.edu/browners/chesnutt/classroom/lynchings_table_state.html (accessed March 10, 2011).