Ryshawn Bynum: American Slavery’s Latest Victim? by Kimberley Jane Wilson

Two-year-old Ryshawn Lamar Bynum died on July 31, 2003. His father, Isaac Bynum, had brought the child to the intensive care unit of Oregon Health and Science University Hospital the previous day.

Ryshawn arrived unresponsive, and doctors soon realized why: His neck was broken. So were two of his ribs. He had a severe brain injury (which, an autopsy showed, was the actual cause of his death), retinal hemorrhages and about 70 whip marks on his legs, buttocks, back and chest.

Little Ryshawn was pronounced dead at 10:15 a.m. When speaking with the police, Isaac Bynum initially said the injuries were an accident. When questioned about the whip marks, he admitted hitting his son with a watch strap while potty training him. Isaac Bynum was charged with one count of murder by abuse at 11:30 a.m.

This story is an obvious tragedy. Just thinking about the suffering this innocent child must have endured brings tears to my eyes. But thinking about what happened afterwards makes me sick.

Isaac Bynum’s lawyer, Randall Vogt, is arguing that his client wasn’t entirely at fault. Yes, he beat his child but – and you may need to read this twice – it was white people who made him do it. That’s right. White people, or rather their slave-owning ancestors, made Isaac Cortez Bynum kill his son.

Voght is hanging this novel defense on the untested and unproven theory of a black assistant professor at Portland State University. Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary pioneered the idea of “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.” In May, she testified in Bynum’s defense. Her theory is that, because our ancestors were slaves and had to watch their loved ones raped, beaten, humiliated and sold away, they must have endured unspeakable mental trauma. They never got the chance to heal from this trauma and passed it on to their children. After years of racism, generations of blacks are now subject to violent or self-destructive behavior.

In other words, most of us are just naturally crazy and dangerous.

Do you believe this? Do you want your kids to believe this about themselves?

Anyone who embraces this theory is more of a slave than our ancestors ever were. Browse through a good history book and you’ll see. Our ancestors were not weak-willed people. They fought slavery. Although only the Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel’s rebellions are well known today, there were hundreds of slave revolts in this country. It was not uncommon for slaves to add poison to the master’s food or set fire to his barns.

Slaves risked their lives to learn how to read and write. Slaves risked their lives in order to hold church meetings. We also know many risked their lives trying to escape slavery. Their bodies may have been enslaved, but their minds were free. Proclaiming anything else is to spit on their graves and the memory of their courage.

According to the Oregonian, Dr. DeGruy-Leary, who holds a doctorate in social work and a master’s in clinical psychology, had not actually spoken to Isaac Bynum at the time of her testimony. She is licensed to offer counseling, but not to diagnose. Had she met with Bynum, perhaps she might have come up with the same “diagnosis” that I have.

Isaac Cortez Bynum, a 27-year-old man who has never been a slave and never met any family member who was ever a slave, is nothing more than a cold-blooded brute who murdered his child and who is trying to weasel out of facing the consequences.

Of course, Dr. DeGruy-Leary isn’t the really the first person to espouse the Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome theory. Learned and not-so-learned people have said for years that black people were violent and we just can’t help ourselves. We used to call such people bigots.

Washington County Circuit Judge Nancy W. Campbell rejected Dr. DeGruy-Leary’s pre-trial testimony, but has indicated she may allow it at the actual September trial only if the theory can be shown to have a scientific basis accepted by the psychiatric community.

The possibility Bynum just might get off thanks to the notion most black people are unbalanced is just about the most low-down and vile thing I can think of.

Kimberley Jane Wilson is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and a freelance writer in Northern Virginia. Comments may be sent to [email protected]..

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