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
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
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
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
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 Project21@nationalcenter.org..
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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