Nevada man is gripped with sorrow as skinheads celebrate son's slaying

Boston Globe/July 5, 1999
By Jonathan Franklin

Las Vegas -- After his son was murdered on July 4, 1998, Lionel Newborn thought this year would be a time for peace and remembrance. He was wrong.

Outside the Vacation Village casino on the Las Vegas Strip on Saturday, on the eve of the anniversary of his son's death in what he calls a hate crime, Lionel Newborn watched in disbelief as a carload of skinheads screeched to a stop.

One young man with ''Intimidation One'' tattooed across his chest jumped out and started shinnying up a flagpole in an attempt to destroy first the Mexican, then the Israeli, flag.

Later that night, according to Las Vegas police, white power bands planned to stage a rock concert to celebrate the slaying of Lin Newborn, a 24-year-old African-American who had spent much of his adult life campaigning against racism.

''If these neo-Nazis are going to have a concert to celebrate my son's death, I can't feel vengeance because I am a Christian,'' said Newborn's father, a Las Vegas resident. ''I can, however, express concern for their lack of intelligence.

''They have their rights, that's what makes this country great. You can hate whoever you want to hate, you can even demonstrate your hate, but you are not supposed to bring harm to other people.''

The white power groups, who were interrogated by police, postponed their concert, citing a heavy police presence.

While hate crimes such as the torture of a gay man in Wyoming and the dragging death of an African-American man in Texas have received national attention, the deaths of Lin Newborn and his friend Dan Shersty are chronicled more by friends and activists than the national press.

In Las Vegas, police Officer Harry Fagel has written poetry in memory of Lin Newborn, whom he described as a role model for the neighborhood. During the morning briefings given to the Las Vegas Police Department, Fagel reads his poetry to try to keep Newborn's memory alive.

John Toddy, 19, described his friend Newborn as a ''father figure to the Las Vegas underground antiracist scene.''

Toddy, a member of the Las Vegas chapter of Anti Racist Action, said Newborn ''did everything he could to stop racism and was so outspoken. That is what led to his murder. He tried to keep us thinking it's not so much the person as the disease of ignorance.

''Our main fight wasn't against the neo-Nazis, but against their beliefs.''

Nicknamed ''Spit,'' Lin Newborn was a civil rights activist with the groups Unity Skins and Anti Racist Action.

Lionel Newborn described his son as an idealist who could never understand racism. ''Our home would look like the United Nations. Racial prejudice didn't exist. Spit couldn't deal with racism. It really hurt him that this hatred and ignorance existed. He couldn't understand why people couldn't get along.''

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of Newborn and Shersty will be fully aired in a trial this year. What is now known, according to police and press reports, is that July 3, 1998, two women entered Tribal Body Piercing, where Newborn worked. After getting a belly ring clipped in, the women invited Newborn to a party.

Newborn invited his friend Shersty, a white serviceman who fixed F-16 engines at Nellis Air Force Base. The two left home at midnight.

Tourists riding in the desert the next morning discovered Shersty's badly beaten body. It was covered with boot prints. Shersty had received a shotgun blast to the chest. Two days later, police found Newborn's body. He had been shot repeatedly.

In September, John Edward Butler, 26, a local man with a lengthy criminal record, was charged with the murders.

Police in Las Vegas were unwilling to give details of the investigation, but hinted that further arrests could be imminent.

Civil rights activists with the national group Anti Racist Action are using the deaths of Shersty and Newborn to raise consciousness at rock and punk concerts nationwide.

At a ''Warped Tour'' concert Friday in San Bernardino, Calif., hundreds of newsletters describing the deaths were handed out.

Mo Acosta, 24, a hospital worker who attended the show, said he encounters youth with Nazi beliefs every day. ''If you go to a punk ... show, you can tell by their boot laces, the brotherhood tattoos, and the swastikas, they'll be talking about white power,'' and giving you the Nazi salute.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.