We’ll be hearing more about this story, I hope, in the coming months as the civil case goes to trial. Three years ago in Cass County, Texas, a handful of drunken mouth-breathers humiliated a developmentally disabled black man for an entire night, then dumped his unconscious body on the side of a road after one of the party tired of him and punched him in the face. This was no ordinary punch — it knocked him into a three-day coma.
Billy Ray had regained consciousness on Wednesday, but the trauma to his head had resulted in permanent brain damage. (Having retained no memory of what had happened to him, he was unable to help investigators.) There was little dignity in his condition; he drooled and soiled himself, and his speech was severely impaired. When he tried to talk, his lips and tongue would not cooperate, and to all but a few family members who grew accustomed to the way he grunted his words, he was unintelligible. He had difficulty swallowing food and walking unassisted, and he often sat in his hospital bed and cried in frustration. After a month, when he still could not feed or dress himself, he was transferred to a nursing home in nearby Texarkana, where he gradually learned to walk again and recovered control of his bodily functions.
After the perps were charged, most of the white community rallied on their behalf, with the mayor opining that the “black boy” (who was in his 40s) had been somewhere he shouldn’t have been — and while the violence was unfortunate, (white) boys will be (white) boys. The mother of one of the accused — apparently recalling Babs Bush’s astonishment at the government largess heaped upon the Katrina victims so lavishly lodged in the Astrodome — even suggested that “[Billy Ray] is better off today than he’s ever been in his life. He roamed the streets, the family never knew where he was. Now in the nursing home he’s got someone to take care of him.” Her son and his friends, she figures, are the worse for wear in all this because their reputations are forever damaged. Perhaps they, too, are “weeping in frustration” and choking on their food.
Two juries decided to allow the defendants to serve minimal sentences; their work was abetted by an apparently worthless DA who couldn’t be bothered to attend the trial, as well as an assistant DA who overlooked evidence that the defendants perjured themselves on the stand. The fact that the defendants had discharged a casual stream of racist epithets against Johnson the night of the assault did nothing, moreover, to persuade the jury that race was a prevailing factor in the crime.