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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Aug. 3, 2000
issue of Workers World newspaper
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WEST VIRGINIA

Lynching of gay Black man sparks protest

By Elijah Crane

Arthur "J.R." Warren was murdered in Grant Town, W.Va., in the early hours of July 4. Civil-rights groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists are likening his death to the lynchings of James Byrd Jr. in Texas and Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.

Warren, a 26-year-old African American gay man who lived with disabilities, was brutally beaten and kicked to death by white youths. The killers threw Warren's body into the trunk of a car and drove about a mile outside of town. They dropped his body in the middle of the road and repeatedly drove over him to make the lynching look like a hit-and-run accident.

Officials bought the idea of a hit-and-run until 15-year-old Jason Shoemaker came forward. He told authorities that he witnessed the killing and helped clean up the blood and mess in the vacant house where the murder took place.

Shoemaker named David Parker and Jared Wilson as the killers. The two 17 year olds later confessed. They were each charged with one count of first-degree murder. The 15 year old has not yet been charged, though prosecutor Richard Bunner says he will be soon.

On July 11, nearly 1,000 people from local and national civil-rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations joined with members of Warren's community in a vigil outside the Marion County courthouse.

Warren was a loved and respected member of his small rural community. Despite the fact that he struggled with learning disabilities and was also physically challenged, friends said he made regular visits to the elderly and helped out neighbors in any way he could.

On July 20 Brenda Warren and Arthur Warren Sr. took their son's case to Washington with the help of many national groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Together, they held a press conference where they asserted that the murder was racially motivated.

Warren's parents met with representatives of Attorney General Janet Reno's office. They asked the Justice Department to launch a federal civil-rights investigation of the murder.

While the corporate media and the courts would like to keep the debate focused on whether or not the murder was a "hate crime" based on sexual orientation, the fact remains that this was a racist, anti-gay lynching.

Racist double standard

Marion County prosecutors have yet to decide whether or not Parker and Wilson will be tried as juveniles or adults. That decision is expected on Aug. 3.

Shaka Sankofa/Gary Graham, a Black man and revolutionary activist, was also 17 years old at the time he was accused of murder. Not for one minute did the state question whether or not to try him as an adult. In his case, it was a matter of course. After almost two decades on death row, Sankofa was legally lynched on June 22 by the Texas death machine under the direction of Gov. George W. Bush.

The racist application of the law is clearly illustrated in the case of J.R. Warren. The state of West Virginia is allowing four weeks just to consider whether or not Parker and Wilson, both white, should be tried as adults. Each has confessed to this racist murder.

In stark contrast, the state of Texas took only two days to try and convict 17-year-old Sankofa of murder and sentence him to death. Sankofa always professed his innocence, which was supported by overwhelming evidence that was suppressed during the trial. No court would hear the evidence.

Juveniles are not adults and should not be tried as such. That's why juvenile law exists. But prosecutors have found a way to get around it by charging some youths as adults. Such laws are an added racist weapon in the hands of prosecutors.

The state of Texas, as well as many other states, are currently working to pass laws allowing children as young as 11 to be tried as adults in murder cases. But the unwritten postscript to these laws is that they apply almost exclusively to Black, Latin and other children of color, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of youths of color (and adults convicted as youths) in prison and on death row in the U.S. today.

As tens of thousands of people descend on Philadelphia to protest at the Republican National Convention, let the battle cry be heard far and wide: "Avenge Shaka, free Mumia! Justice for J.R. Warren! End the racist death penalty and stop the lynchings now!"

Rainbow Flags for Mumia, the lesbian, gay, bi, two-spirit and trans organization to free Mumia Abu-Jamal will have contingents denouncing racist and anti-gay lynchings at every major event in Philadelphia.

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