by Robert A. Waters
In the broad scheme of things, the murders of James Cooper and James T. Kouzaris didn’t matter much—at least, not to America’s race hustlers. The unprovoked attack on two innocent Englishmen never made national headlines or caused politicians to quiver with outrage in front of the television cameras. The victims were white Brits, the killer African-American, so the narrative of bigoted whites preying on blacks didn’t fit.
On April 16, 2011, at 2:00 a.m., Cooper and Kouzaris left the Gator Bar in Sarasota, Florida. Falling-down drunk, they headed up the street, presumably to have breakfast at a nearby IHOP. The two friends missed a turnoff leading to the all-night restaurant and ended up in The Courts, a notorious, gang-infested housing project.
Sixteen-year-old Shawn Tyson spied Cooper and Kouzaris stumbling through the “hood” and decided to rob the “crackers.” He made a brief call to a friend, then crawled out his window carrying a .22-caliber pistol.
Tyson had a history of violence—just eight days before, he’d been arrested for shooting out the windows of a passing car. Released by mistake, the troubled teen now confronted the lost tourists.
According to court documents, Tyson demanded that Cooper and Kouzaris give him money. When they answered that they had none, he replied, “Since you ain’t got no money, I’ve got something for your ass.” As the tourists begged for their lives, Tyson opened fire. Four rounds hit Cooper—a wound to the chest proved fatal. Kouzaris, shot twice in the back, died on the grimy street.
Tyson bragged about the murders to several acquaintances. Ignoring the code of silence prevalent in many low-income neighborhoods, his friends quickly turned him in.
As he sat in jail awaiting trial, the suspect made incriminating remarks to his half-brother.
This partial transcript is from a phone call recorded by jail officials:
Brother: Yeah, I don't know what them crackers talkin’ about. S***, like. You was in the house, like.
Tyson: I know... that’s what I keep on... these crackers talkin’ about that somebody say they seen me out there or some s***.
Brother: Them crackers trippin’, man.
Tyson: Hell yeah.
Brother: S***, you’re safe, though. You know what I'm sayin’ like? You ain’t got no guns or nothin. Like f*** them crackers talkin’ about.
Tyson: Only thing is, they found the bullets, though.
Tyson: They found the bullets.
Brother: Oh. Damn!
Tyson: That’s the only thing that’s gonna f*** me up.
In addition to the bullets, blood found on Tyson’s clothes matched the DNA of Cooper.
A jury quickly found the killer guilty, and a Florida judge sentenced him to life in prison. It was only because of his age that he didn’t receive the death penalty.
After the trial, friends and families of the victims criticized President Obama for a lack of sympathy. Paul Davies, a friend of the family, spoke to reporters: “We would like to publicly express our dissatisfaction at the lack of any public or private message of support or condolence from any American governing body or indeed, President Obama himself. [The father of James] Kouzaris has written to President Obama on three separate occasions and is yet to even receive the courtesy of a reply. It would perhaps appear that Mr. Obama sees no political value in facilitating such a request or that the lives of two British tourists are not worthy of ten minutes of his time.”
For the next few decades, Shawn Tyson can think of his bloody deeds while languishing behind prison walls.
Unfortunately, the Cooper and Kouzaris families will also have to think about those deeds.