WASHINGTON — Black members of Congress expressed outrage Thursday but little surprise at the brutal murder of a black man in Texas, and they urged Americans to root out what one called "deep and vicious racism in this country."
"It manifests itself at the street level in murder, but it also manifests itself at the boardroom in discrimination," Rep. Albert Russell Wynn (D-Md.) said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, denounced what she called a "firestorm of hate." She was flanked by the organization's members at a Capitol news conference.
"This is a hate crime, pure and simple," she said. "Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident."
Referring to Mississippi's past reputation for racial intolerance, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said: "We, as black people, have come to understand that Mississippi is wherever we are."
James Byrd Jr.'s body was found Sunday on a country road 10 miles from his Jasper, Texas, home. His severed head and other body parts were a mile away. Three white men, who investigators say have ties to white supremacist groups, have been charged.
Caucus members urged prosecution of the three defendants under the federal hate crimes statute.
Rep. Jim Turner, the white congressman whose East Texas district includes Jasper, appeared at the news conference to express the community's grief and to call for racial harmony.
"In our country, no person is safe until every American treats his neighbor with dignity regardless of the color of his skin," said Turner, a Democrat whose lapel bore a yellow ribbon in honor of Byrd.
Meanwhile, Byrd's sister said on NBC's "Today" show that it is unfair to label her hometown as racist.
"I think that's unfair to so many good people who live here who are just, kind and generous, like anywhere else," Mary Verrett said.
"However, I do realize that there are individuals all over the world that exhibit certain prejudice attitudes. But never was it demonstrated to such a degree as it happened in Jasper," Verrett said.