Today, President Bush will address the NAACP convention — the first time he has spoken to the organization since he gave a speech as a candidate back in 2000. Bush has declined each invitation extended each year — traditionally made to each president — until this one.
There is also a long history of Bush-bashing at the NAACP. Former chairman Julian Bond pushed his rhetoric and bombast so far that during the last election, there was serious talk of stripping the organization of its charitable, tax-exempt status.
The reason Bush has declined has never been officially stated, but shortly after Bush’s 2000 appearance the NAACP ran an ad against his candidacy.
In 1998, James Byrd — a black man — was dragged to his death by three white men in an obviously racially-motivated crime. In the wake of the killing, advocates pushed for a hate crimes law in Texas. Then-Governor Bush, citing his opposition to hate crime laws, vetoed the measure. (It was later re-passed by the Legislature, and his successor signed it into law.) In October 2000, the NAACP ran an its ad, featuring Byrd’s daughter, denouncing him over the veto.
Bush’s argument at the time was simple: he didn’t see the need for yet more laws. What the three men who killed Byrd did was already flagrantly illegal. They were arrested, tried, and convicted for murder. Two of the men were sentenced to death; the third argued that he wasn’t directly involved, and there was a lack of evidence of racism on his part. He received a life sentence.
Setting aside the emotional aspects of the case, it’s hard to refute Bush’s position. The existing laws seemed to work just fine in the Byrd case. There isn’t much more the state of Texas could have done to Lawrence Brewer and John King, and the racial element was found wanting by the jury in Shawn Berry’s case. Piling on “hate crimes” against these three men might have made a few people feel a little better, but would have had absolutely no effect on their ultimate fate.
And remember, this is Texas. There, the death penalty actually means something. Rumor has it they’re replacing their electric chair with a couch.
I happen to agree with Bush in opposing hate-crime laws. It’s simple to me: a crime is a crime is a crime. When someone breaks the law, they should be punished. Motives can come into play when it’s time to determine the sentence, but I don’t believe in establishing a tiered system of victimhood.
Further, I don’t believe in creating “protected classes” of people. To me, that smacks of racism, of saying that certain people simply need more protection than others. That might be personal — as someone who would be hard-pressed to find a minority group to belong to, I am bothered that the same crime committed against me is less significant than if done against another. It seems to violate the “equal protection” clause of the Constitution.
So after six years after that political low blow, Bush has decided it’s time to mend fences with the NAACP. I’m hoping they don’t once again spit in his proffered hand.