Angered Yes, Racist No. - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

10/8/03

Angered Yes, Racist No.

The FBI is continuing its investigation into the beating of a mentally challenged black man who was dumped on a deserted county road. Was it a hate crime? His family says yes. But do others agree? We went back to Linden Wednesday to find how the community is reacting to the situation. The Cass County town of 2,236 is a typically quiet east Texas town. There's a barber shop, a Dollar General store, and a county courthouse residents are proud to say is the oldest in the state of Texas still in use. But there's one thing they are most proud of.

"Football of course," said Linden resident Winston Kirkland. "Oh, this is a football town."

"Football, football, football," agreed Muggy Hall.

"That's pretty much the only thing that goes on around here is football games on Friday night," said Linden's Tommy Price.

The Tigers are currently undefeated on the season. But, for the past week, the football team has taken a back seat to something the town is much less proud of. One of their own, 42-year-old Billy Ray Johnson was taken to a field party, given alcohol, humiliated, beaten unconscious, then dumped on a deserted Cass County road. With a town so small, everyone knows what happened, and everyone seems to know who did it. Many are angry.

"I believe emphatically that they should exercise this hate law and give them the maximum that the law allows," said Winston Kirkland.

Many are surprised.

"I just couldn't think of anyone that could do something like that," added Tommy Price. "I come to find out, it's people that I do know, that I've been around."

But, most feel this is a regrettable, yet isolated situation.

"We're no different than anybody else," said Cass County Sheriff James "Troop" Estes. "This is a quiet town and we have our problems sometimes, but other than that, it's a relatively quiet place to live."

"The way I see it," says "Muggy" Hall, who is black, "I haven't seen any racial slurs towards me or any of my family members."

All will agree, bringing to justice those responsible would make it a lot easier to bring closure to this case. That may come sooner than later. The family was told by the NAACP, that the FBI and Linden police investigation is "going in the right direction". Family members also say they were told by the Linden Police Department that some arrests could be made by this weekend.

Kevin Berns, reporting.

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