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Friday, June 26, 1998

Black Panthers to convene in Jasper to counter Klan rally

By PAULINE ARRILLAGA / Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON (AP) -- Advising Jasper residents to "load your guns," the New Black Panther Party said Thursday it would send armed members to the East Texas town Saturday to protect blacks during a planned Ku Klux Klan rally.

"We're going to be there to defend and to patrol the community and protect them from attack," said Malik Z. Shabazz, an attorney for the New Black Panther Party. "It's not a provocative action. We are simply fulfilling our divine and constitutional rights for self-defense."

Two factions of the KKK have scheduled a two-hour rally Saturday afternoon outside the Jasper County Courthouse to denounce the June 7 slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death.

Three white men -- Lawrence Russell Brewer Jr., 31, of Sulphur Springs, Shawn Berry and John William King, both 23, of Jasper, are charged with the slaying. Authorities have said King and Brewer have ties to white supremacist beliefs. Brewer's attorney declined to comment on his client's beliefs. A message left for King's attorney was not immediately returned to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Shabazz said he didn't know how many Black Panthers are expected, but he said they would be carrying shotguns. Some will attend the Klan rally to "monitor" the situation. Others will be stationed near the homes of black residents, "setting up a defense perimeter and defense patrols," he said.

Several black residents asked the group to provide security, Shabazz said.

However, local authorities and Byrd's family said they would prefer that both groups stay away.

"We're not in favor of either group because of what they stand for," said Clara Taylor, the victim's sister. "We're trying to get on with our lives and heal and have a little peace."

Jasper County Sheriff Billy Rowles said state troopers, local police and sheriff's deputies would provide security. Neither he nor the Texas Department of Public Safety would say how many law officers would be on hand.

"We're asking everybody to please don't come to Jasper Saturday," Rowles said. "Let us handle it."

DPS spokeswoman Sherri Deatherage Green admitted authorities face an extra challenge in maintaining peace if the New Black Panthers plan to carry guns.

"Obviously, loaded guns don't mix well with an emotionally charged situation like this," Ms. Green said. "I don't believe the people of Jasper are going to come out with their guns ablaze. But if any problems arise, DPS is going to be there to take care of it."

In Texas, it is legal to possess a loaded shotgun in public so long as the gun owner is behaving lawfully, authorities said.

The Texas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also plans to be in Jasper Saturday to meet with residents. However, President Gary Bledsoe said the meeting was unrelated to the KKK rally.

"We're discouraging people from going to the march," Bledsoe said. "We're just having a meeting to discuss concerns with local citizens."

Meanwhile, Gov. George W. Bush on Thursday repeated calls for the Klan to cancel its rally.

"First and foremost, I'd tell the Klan to stay away from Jasper. Stay home, mow your yard and don't show up trying to incite people's sentiments," he said, adding that if the event goes forward as scheduled, "We'll be prepared."

Also Thursday, a U.S. Senate committee approved $100,000 in funding to help pay for the prosecution of the three men accused of killing Byrd. The provision is awaiting consideration by the full Senate.

An eight-page autopsy report on Byrd released Wednesday said he died of "multiple severe injuries with separation of the head and right upper extremity from the rest of the body."

The autopsy found that much of his skin was stripped and shredded, and his broken bones included most of his ribs, his back, his collarbone and bones in his arms, legs and feet. His elbows, kneecaps, lower back and both heels were ground to the bone, the report said.


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