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A Community Responds to Collective Trauma: An Ecological Analysis of the James Byrd Murder in Jasper, Texas


The brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. in June 1998 unleashed a storm of media, interest groups, high profile individuals and criticism on the Southeast Texas community of Jasper. The crime and subsequent response—from within the community as well as across the world—engulfed the entire town in a collective trauma. Using natural disaster literature/theory and employing an ecological approach, Jasper, Texas was investigated via an interrupted time series analysis to identify how the community changed as compared to a control community (Center, Texas) on crime, economic, health, educational, and social capital measures collected at multiple pre- and post-crime time points between 1995 and 2003. Differences-in-differences (DD) analysis revealed significant post-event changes in Jasper, as well as a surprising degree of resilience and lack of negative consequences. Interviews with residents conducted between March 2005 and 2007 identified how the community responded to the crisis and augmented quantitative findings with qualitative, field-informed interpretation. Interviews suggest the intervention of external organizations exacerbated the severity of the events. However, using strengths of specific local social institutions—including faith based, law enforcement, media, business sector and civic government organizations—the community effectively responded to the initial threat and to the potential negative ramifications of external entities.

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