Texas Governor Signs State Hate Crimes Law
Feature Story by Helen Norton - 5/31/2001After three years of debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act on May 11, 2001. The bill, which toughens penalties for crimes motivated by the victim's race, religion, color, sex, disability, sexual orientation, age or national origin, is named for the black victim of a dragging death by three white men in 1998.
The bill stalled two years ago after critics complained that it created unnecessary protections for gay men and lesbians. Then-Gov. George W. Bush opposed it, arguing that all crimes are hate crimes and that no special protections are necessary for violence motivated by bias and discrimination.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that Governor Perry was joined by James Byrd's parents at the signing ceremony. According to AP, Stella Byrd called it the best Mother's Day gift she has received: "If it can stop someone, or stop some mother, from having the same pain I've had, it was well worth the work." Stella Byrd was further quoted as saying that hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan had posed for photos and scrawled racist graffiti at her son’s grave. “We just need something to wake them up. By passing this bill, it did."