The James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate
Hate incidents across the United States are surging, devastating individuals and entire communities. Hundreds of organizations in communities across the country work to combat hate every day. To help combat this increase and support those organizations, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law launched the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate.
The James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate supports communities and individuals targeted for hate and challenges white supremacy by using creative legal advocacy, disrupting systems that enable hate, and educating the general public and policy makers.
If you are an individual or institution that was victimized by a hate incident, or if you are an advocate looking for resources or want to learn more about how to combat hate in your community, please e-mail us at [email protected].
On Jan. 4, 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit against the Proud Boys, a violent all-male group with ties to white nationalism, and their leader, Enrique Tarrio, for vandalizing the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Proud Boys attacked and vandalized property of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic Black church, because of its congregants’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The Church was terrorized through coordinated acts of violence when Proud Boys members climbed over a fence surrounding the Church, came on to the Church’s property and destroyed a large Black Lives Matter sign the Church was proudly displaying—attempting to silence the Church’s support for the racial justice movement with violent acts of trespass, theft, and destruction of property.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2020, members of the Proud Boys promoted and participated in violent events. The Proud Boys are not above the law, and will be held accountable for their racialized terror.
Case: Howton v. Fecsko
On Jan. 15, 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit against two white police officers who pulled a Black West Virginia man from his home and beat him for half a minute, causing serious and permanent injuries in the early morning of New Year’s Day 2019. Defendants include the officers at the scene of the attack, Zachary Fecsko and Aaron Dalton, and their supervisor, the former chief of police, Richard Panico. Both officers Fecsko and Dalton have a history of violence on the job.
The plaintiff, Mr. Andre Howton, a 55-year-old Black man, was assaulted after law enforcement removed a woman, who was white, from Mr. Howton’s home. After they removed the woman, Fecscko, a white man in his twenties, inexplicably yanked Mr. Howton from his doorway, telling him “get your ass out here, boy!” With Officer Dalton shouting encouragement, Officer Fecsko then proceeded to pummel Mr. Howton, while Howton lay pinned on the sidewalk, steps from his front door. The use of the word “boy” has a history of being used to refer to Black men in a demeaning and insulting manner. Courts have previously found that the use of the word “boy” – as used by Officer Fecscko – can have serious racial implications, similar to the n-word, and may be evidence of racial hostility.
Read the complaint here.
Read the press release here.
Case: Shepard v. Kita
On Jan. 26, 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit in Pender County, North Carolina concerning a white mob, including a former off-duty New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy and a dozen other individuals – some carrying arms– who menaced a Black family in their North Carolina home last year. They are being sued for trespass; assault; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; invasion of privacy; and violations of North Carolina’s civil rights and fair housing statutes. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Monica and Dameon Shepard, a mother and son who were threatened when the mob tried to enter their home after falsely accusing them of hiding a young woman.
This case is a present-day example of the long and ugly history of white mobs acting with impunity and reckless disregard in the extrajudicial pursuit of Black Americans.
Read the lawsuit here.
Read the press release here.
Case: Dumpson v. Ade
The James Byrd Jr. Center of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—along with co-counsel from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Kirkland and Ellis, LLP—filed a lawsuit against neo Nazi Andrew Anglin, who owned the white supremacist website ‘The Daily Stormer,’ and several individuals for committing online racialized terror against Taylor Dumpson.
In 2017, Dumpson was elected as American University’s first female African American student body president. Following the election, she was the target of hate crimes on the basis of her race and gender. On her first day in office, nooses were found hanging around the campus with bananas tied to them. Some bananas had “AKA” written on them – referencing the historically Black sorority she is a member of. Others read “Harambe bait,” referencing a gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo as a racist and threatening comparison to African Americans. Dumpson was also harassed through Facebook and Twitter. Andrew Anglin, a known neo-Nazi, posted her personal information to his white supremacist website, the Daily Stormer, and directed his followers to harass her via social media. A number of people did target her with hate, including the other defendants in this case. As a result of these events, Dumpson suffered significant injuries and feared for her safety.
The legal team secured a groundbreaking settlement with one of the former white supremacists, in which they issued a personal apology to Ms. Dumpson. The District Court of DC issued a default judgment against the remaining defendants, including $700,000 in judgment. The decision also marked the first time a court has ruled that racist online trolling activity can interfere with one’s equal access to a public accommodation
Read the lawsuit here.
Read the press release here.
Policy & Advocacy
Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act:
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The milestone hate crime law increased the jurisdiction of the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate bias-motivated violence targeting vulnerable individuals, and expanded federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sex ual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It was named in honor of two individuals killed in hateful violence in 1998: James Byrd Jr., a Black man in Jasper, Texas, and Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming.
Report: Hate In Elections: How Racism and Bigotry Threaten Election Integrity in the United States
On Sept. 16, the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate released Hate in Elections: How Racism and Bigotry Threaten Election Integrity in the United States, a comprehensive overview of how hate crimes and hate incidents can impact the election process. By examining disturbances in the recent elections, the report highlights how hate and bigotry are utilized by those seeking to intimidate, dissuade or harass candidates of color and voters from historically marginalized groups. The report also provides an overview of relevant legal frameworks and resources for individuals and candidates who have experienced election-related bigotry.
Key takeaways from Hate in Elections:
- When hate crimes or hate incidents occur during elections, they can send a message that it is dangerous to vote and deter members of historically marginalized groups from participating in the democratic process.
- There is evidence of poll workers all over the country requesting additional identification or creating more stringent check-in procedures for voters of color, as well as harassing voters who are not proficient in English and making it difficult for them to get the language assistance they require.
- There has been an increase of hateful activities organized by white supremacist groups, from rallies to promote conservative issues and candidates, to widespread misinformation regarding polling locations and candidates—and even racist, phony robocalls.
- Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the primary vehicles for disseminating online election-related hate. There is a well-documented history of users threatening voters, doxing election officials and representatives and sharing fake government posts.
- Candidates for office and political parties have used implicit or explicit appeals to racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in online campaign advertisements, especially on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms where they could reach a broad audience and have the opportunity to go viral with minimal expenditures.
Community Resources, Training, and Support
Report Hate: Report Hate: If you are an individual or institution that has been targeted for hate, or an advocate looking for resources or want to learn more about how to combat hate in your community, e-mail us at [email protected]. .
Creating Safer Communities, Hate Crimes Trainings for Law Enforcement, College Campuses and Community Members:
The James Byrd Jr. Center for Stop Hate, in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, trains law enforcement departments across the country on how to better respond to hate crimes. The Creating Safer Hate Crimes Training is designed to train law enforcement officers and prosecutors to identify, investigate, prosecute, and report hate crimes. The trainings help strengthen trust with communities frequently targeted for hate violence and help prosecutors and police work together to accurately report and respond to hateful activity.
Recent trainings were held in Arizona, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Since January 2018, over 1,200 officers and prosecutors have participated in the training.
The Byrd Center team also offers trainings to help community members and college students, faculty and administrators learn about what a hate crime is, the relevant laws and what to do in the wake of hate.
If you are interested in scheduling a training please contact [email protected].
You can find more information about the Creating Safer Hate Crimes Training here.
State Hate Crime Laws and Legal Overviews
Almost every state across the country has a hate crime law, but the protected categories and other details often vary from state to state. For information on your state’s hate crime law, and other resources, please contact [email protected].
Community Trainings and Resources: If you are a member of a community or school group interested in learning more about what you can do to stand up against hate, and would like to schedule a training or need another resource, please contact [email protected].