You may know Jamie Byrd-Grant as a fellow Houston police officer.
She joined HPD 10 years ago, patrolled the streets of Fifth Ward and currently serves in Community Affairs.
There is another fact of Jamie’s life you probably know but maybe not: As a 16-year-old high school student in her hometown of Lufkin, her family members got the news that shook their earth.
On June 7, 1998, three white supremacists dragged her dad, James Byrd Jr., 49, over the back roads of Jasper, Texas, his body parts literally scattering into the grass along the side of the roadway.
You may know that Officer Byrd-Grant has been a leading crusader against racism since that tragic news unfurled into grim reality. Her steadfast work resulted in passage of the state law known as the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Federal Hate Crime Prevention Act.
As an HPD officer, you may know that your colleague’s everyday line of duty stays dedicated to calming the tense, often extremely dangerous encounters officers face on a regular basis. She recognizes the effects trauma has on the youngest, most vulnerable amongst the potential complainants out there on the streets.
What happened to the three killers?
- Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed on Sept. 21, 2011. No remorse.
- John William “Bill” King was executed on April 24, 2019. No remorse.
- Shawn Berry is currently serving life in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2038. Remorse expressed to some Byrd family members.
She has been there. Her reaction to her dad’s gruesome death and to the three men responsible for it was predictable and, yes, understandable. Jamie had a burning desire to drag the trio of racists behind a vehicle – a vengeful action she says she could never take. When two of the three got the death penalty, she looked forward to the executions. But, yet, she wasn’t in the family gallery when they actually took the needle. Her feelings have changed – she no longer believes in the death penalty, preferring life without parole with the perpetrator reflecting about his crime. .
Does this sound like there are things you don’t know about Officer Byrd-Grant?
Yes, and that’s a major reason why she has written a first-person biographic detailing her initial shock, the abrupt realization in the wake of denial, the hatred and – finally – the answer to finding peace.
And that answer is FORGIVENESS!
A portion of the blurb of the book, Triumph Over Tragedy, gets to the point: “A change had to come for me to live with peace and prosperity,” Jamie says. “I am a living victory.”
Let’s get to some details.
Jamie Byrd was 16 years old at the time of the heinous tragedy. In interviews and in person the teenager grew into adulthood with the same attitude – hating the men who murdered her dad and wishing they were dragged behind a pickup truck until they were beheaded and dismembered like their victim.
Because of her upbringing in Lufkin, Jamie’s Christian faith inspired her to be a teacher helping others improve themselves in order to pursue worthy goals. She sought to project empathy and was open about her suffering from her own personal tragedy. She tried teaching. Then she became a probation officer.
That wasn’t enough.
She became a Houston police officer.
“I was a teacher. I always had a passion to enlighten young people. Education was a little girl dream of mine. My teachers are still instrumental in my life. I did that. I was a probation officer and teacher. I felt as if being instrumental in the passage of state and federal anti-hate legislation put me in a unique position. To me they have always been very symbolic about spreading the message about hate.
“With teaching, you have to stick to the curriculum. I wanted to make a difference in kids. A police officer is closer to families and can be the voice of families. Some think we’re walking robots that have nothing in life. We do.”
What You Didn’t Know
There was another prime factor in her choice to become a police officer.
“I was quite impressed with the speedy investigation,” Jamie said of the joint effort conducted by the FBI and the Jasper County sheriff. “That was the No. 1 thing that pops into my head – the investigation that resulted in the suspects being taken into custody as quickly as they were.
“I wanted to be part of an organization that would bring that closure to people. Houston was where you could shoot for the stars. The opportunity is better with the Houston Police Department.”
Early in her 10-year tenure, Officer Byrd-Grant learned to be “a voice of reason” for those complainants who were victims of tragic circumstances, often not of their own making. “You’ve been through something,” she is known to tell victims at a scene, “and I have too.”
“When I have the opportunity, I will let them know I have been through rough times. I have put those hostilities behind me and made a good choice. Every choice you make has a consequence. Take your life obstacle and card you’ve been dealt. You can make the best of it or the worst of it.
“I got through this. I could have been defiant. Taken drugs. I have never taken drugs. I tell young people, ‘Take whatever you’re going through and make the best of it.’
“This is the reason I got into policing. I want to deal with kids who just throw in the towel.”
But, like a written offense report that can’t quite tell the complete story of what happens to the victims of the crime, there is more to this policing story and its personal side.
And herein lies another vital fact that you don’t know about Officer Byrd-Grant. She wants you – and everybody else – to know for sure. That’s why she’s written this book, told from the viewpoint of a 16-year-old daughter – which is where she was in life when her dad was murdered.
Over most of the 23 years since the loss of her father, Jamie kept herself busy enough to avoid confronting her deepest feelings about the loss. “The best thing to do is to keep moving,” she recalled. “I had a lot of built-up hate. I was an outgoing person, also a very private person. I didn’t want this situation to be my identity. It’s part of my life but it’s not me.
“I kept everything bottled up for years.”
That is until 2017 when she was pregnant with her son, Karter O’Rourke Grant. It was a painful, difficult pregnancy.
Then one day she talked to God about it.
“I was going through unexpected issues with the pregnancy. I was thanking God for the conceiving. I lay in my bed praying over my unborn son, thanking God for this joy-to-be in my life.”
She was asking God for help in this birthing situation. She said his answer was one word: Forgive!
“I wasn’t praying about that. Forgive doesn’t fit with what I’m thinking. I disregarded what God was putting before me.
“God said, ‘You need to forgive,’ and my dad flashed in front of me. No, I’m not going to forgive those guys. I was always opposite of what my family represented. I was the only one who would not forgive them until they died.”
Jamie hails from a strong Christian family. Her book is dedicated to the memory of her father and to her mother, “my rock,” Thelma Adams of Lufkin, the retired circulation supervisor at the city of Lufkin library.
“I had wanted them tied behind a pickup. I asked Him, ‘What is it that You want me to do?’ There were these evil spirits I had been holding in for so long. That day, I began my forgiveness process.
“I’m not going to quench the spirit. It kept coming to me. I said to God, ‘You know how I feel.’ I tried to bargain with Him.
“I said, ‘You’re going to give me a pass on this.’ “
With that non-existent pass, Byrd-Grant, the mother-to-be, realized, “I couldn’t speak positively with my son. This little boy is the most precious thing that’s ever happened to me. If God is telling me to forgive them and not pass these evil spirits on to my son, then that’s what I’m going to do.
“I had to repent those things. And my journey of forgiveness began.”
And continues. Little Karter is four years old and growing.
You have to get the book to learn the rest of the story.