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What Is a Dragging Death?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 16, 2024
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A dragging death is a death caused by dragging a person underneath or behind an automobile. This type of death can be accidental or intentional, but it is most commonly mentioned as a type of murder relating to hate crimes. In some cases, this type of murder is related to lynching or other traditional racist crimes in the United States of America. As such, a dragging death is often taken seriously by the community in which it occurs, as this can be an indication that a hate crime has occurred.

In a technical sense, a dragging death is any death that occurs when a person is dragged by an automobile. The cause of death in these cases is usually complex and may be related to events that occur before a person begins to be dragged. This type of death is not necessarily murder in every case, but the term is so stained by its connection to hate crimes that other terminology is usually used when the death is accidental. In some cases, people use this term to refer to killing an animal by dragging it behind an automobile as well, which is a case of severe animal abuse.

One of the most famous dragging deaths in the United States of America occurred in 1998 in Jasper, Texas. A black man named James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to death by three white men. His death is often considered one of the most horrifying examples of lynching by dragging. Evidence gathered during his autopsy suggests that he was alive during most of the dragging and that his death was the result of decapitation. This event led directly to increased interest in hate crime legislation.

There are many important features that determine how serious a dragging death is considered. Even though this type of murder is considered heinous on its own, racist intentions and motive usually make people consider the crime to be even worse. A dragging death entails a large degree of torture because the victim is often alive during dragging. Also, when a dragging murder occurs as a racist crime, other activities like mutilation of the body and post-murder celebrations may occur.

It is important to mention that it is possible to have an accidental dragging death, but that alternative terminology is usually used in these cases. For example, a person whom is hit by a car and becomes lodged in such a way that he or she is dragged can be considered a dragging death victim, but people will usually say that the individual was dragged to death. This is an example of how a particular ritual form of murder can become linked with the intended message of that murder.

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Discussion Comments

By Feryll — On Jan 07, 2015

@mobilian33 - I lean both ways on this argument about the need to charge people with hate crimes. The issue I have is how are we supposed to know whether a person beat up another man because he was a different race or simply because he was drunk and didn't know what he was doing?

Sure, you can look at the person's history and the people and groups he is connected to, but I don't know that this is enough to determine a person's motivation in a particular instance. However, I think a dragging death can be called a hate crime regardless of the motivation.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 07, 2015

@mobilian33 - I agree in principle with what have said about the punishment fitting the crime regardless of the reason the person committed the crime. However, if you go back and research why the classification of hate crime was designated then maybe you can better understand why this distinction is needed in some cases.

Being able to charge a person with a hate crime rather than simple assault and battery allows law enforcement and the justice system to more heavily punish criminals who use violence to control people of different races and sexual orientation.

Hopefully, punishing people for hate crimes will decrease the number of hate crimes committed. If this is not the case, at least a person convicted of a hate crime will get a harsher punishment and I have no problem with this. After all, life is not always fair.

By mobilian33 — On Jan 06, 2015

The whole idea of a crime being worst because it's labeled a hate crime is something that makes little, if any, sense, and something that is not needed. A crime is a crime, and the punishment should fit the crime.

First of all, most crimes have some level of hate involved in the first place, so there is no shortage of hate crimes. Secondly, the man mentioned in the article who was dragged and decapitated was murdered and that is crime enough. We don't need the term hate to be piled on top of the crime.

If you drag someone to death intentionally then you should get the same treatment. You should be executed, regardless of why you dragged the person to death.

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