HATE CRIME: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas

Joyce King, Author . Pantheon $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-42132-7

When William King received the death penalty for the grisly murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Tex., he became the first white man in 150 years to be sent to that state's death row for killing a black man. Broadcast journalist King covered his trial and those of Russell Brewer and Shawn Berry, the two other young white men convicted of dragging Byrd behind a pickup truck on June 7, 1998. Suspecting that she's assigned the story only because she's black, King arrives in Jasper fearful and doubting her journalistic objectivity. The Louisiana native quickly confronts her own biases about the smalltown South, even as she becomes an "international commentator" on a crime that shocked the world. King reports the case from start to finish and deepens her chronicle by investigating King and Brewer's involvement in racist Texas prison gangs, creating a chilling portrait of racism's brutal breeding ground. But her efforts to tally the case's personal toll are less successful. The disjointed narrative provides very little insight into her character, and unskilled prose undercuts the telling. Particularly vexing are frequent dangling modifiers, such as one that turns a description of a bad tire into an accurate (if unintentional) assessment of the killers' characters: "Already beyond salvage, they decided the best insurance was a can of Fix-A-Flat." Though this account fares better as documentary than diary, King's ultimate rapprochement with the white authorities who deliver justice for Byrd rings true: "This case taught me what my own work on... racial tolerance had not. I was harboring my own insecurities about race and my own tendencies to stereotype. Recycling untruths simply made me more like the very people I avoided." (June 4)

Reviewed on: 04/08/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 119 pages - 978-0-307-80767-0
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-385-72195-0
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