Awhite Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a hate crime in federal court on Friday for burning a cross in his front yard to intimidate a Black Family.
According to the Justice Department, Axel C. Cox, 24, of Gulfport, admitted to violating the Fair Housing Act when he used threatening and racially derogatory remarks toward his Black neighbors and burned a cross to intimidate them.
“The collaboration among the Gulfport Police Department, the FBI, the Civil Rights Division and our office brought this defendant to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “We will continue to work with and for the good people of Mississippi to eradicate such racist intimidation.”
Court documents reveal that Cox gathered supplies from his residence, put together a wooden cross in his front yard, and propped it up so his Black neighbors could see it. Cox then doused the cross with motor oil and lit it on fire. He later admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and because they were occupying a home next to his.
“Burning a cross invokes the long and painful history, particularly in Mississippi, of intimidation and impending physical violence against Black people,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who use racially-motivated violence to drive people away from their homes or communities.”
Federal prosecutors told NPR that when Cox burned the cross to threaten and intimidate his Black neighbors, he violated the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination against a person’s housing rights based on the individual’s race, religion, national origin, sex, or family status.
Axel Cox is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2023. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both.
“Individuals in our communities should be free from threats and intimidation,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring to justice anyone who violates the federal laws designed to ensure civil rights are protected.”
According to an FBI report, more than 7,700 criminal hate crime incidents were reported in 2020, an increase of about 450 incidents over 2019.
NNPA Newswire/BlackPressUSA By Lisa Fitch, Editor-in-Chief | Our Weekly News Los Angeles
Blacks over-represented hate crime victims as domestic terrorism rises
During May’s commencement address at Tennessee State University, Vice President Kamala Harris told the HBCU graduates that in many ways, they were entering an increasingly unsettled world, but they could do something positive about that.
“I look at this unsettled world, and yes I see the challenges, but I am here to tell you, I also see the opportunities,” Harris said. “The opportunities for your leadership. The future of our country and our world will be shaped by you.”
The Vice President again expressed her concern during a recent webinar with members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
“I believe we are experiencing an epidemic of hate. I do believe that when we look at the boldness, the unapologetic boldness of people to speak with such hate… we have to take notice of it.” Harris told the dozens of Black press reporters and publishers.
“Let’s call it what it is. Let’s speak about it,” she said, noting that a number of elected officials across the country have tried to deny the existence of racist hate groups. “Leaders have to speak truth and speak in a spirit to unify communities, knowing we have much more in common.”
While Harris spoke, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol continued to present findings stemming from its 11-month probe.
The violent insurrection, involving a significant number of far-right extremist groups, left five people dead and opened the nation’s eyes to the magnitude of White nationalist threats.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers with seditious conspiracy. The DOJ also charged Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four of his lieutenants with sedition.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Trump administration ignored warnings by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security about the escalating threat of violent White supremacist groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
The SPLC believes that Trump’s lack of action has increased the danger and threat of violence from far-right extremist groups and individuals.
This year, the center’s March report, “The Year in Hate & Extremism 2021,” revealed that hate and anti-government extremism have gone mainstream, infecting the national and political dialogue. The report identified 733 hate and 488 anti-government groups actively operating across the nation.
“Hate and extremism in America has not diminished,” the report states. “Instead, it has coalesced into a broader movement that is both threatening our democracy at the community level and embracing violence as a means to achieve White supremacist goals.”
Faith groups across the country marked the seventh anniversary of the racially-motivated massacre at Charleston. S.C.’s Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The commemorative Bible study event began June 17, the day nine parishioners lost their lives in an act of hate and violence. It’s theme, “What Kind of Soil Are We?” was taken from the Bible passage studied on that tragic night.
Mark 4:1-20 is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower, and alternatively as the Parable of the Soils. Christians across the nation used the commemorative event to analyze the parable and discuss, “What kind of soil are we? What kind of soil is God calling us to become?”
“Seven years after the domestic terrorist attack at Mother Emanuel AME Church and as the nation mourns the innocent lives lost in recent attacks in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, we find ourselves in the same quagmire,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).
“This national Bible study is much needed and allows the nation to turn the mirror on itself,” he added. “What kind of soil are we if we cannot or will not protect the lives of students in school and parishioners in their places of worship? We must not allow the threads that hold the fabric of this great country together to become unraveled by appalling silence.”
Racist conspiracy theories often hide in plain sight
Derrick Johnson, NAACP president & CEO, had some words after the May mass shooting in Buffalo:
“As we join the millions across America mourning the lives and unnecessary deaths of the 10 people murdered at Tops Market on Saturday, we stand before you with a clear message: White supremacy and democracy cannot coexist. The domestic terrorism and violence perpetuated by those espousing White supremacist ideologies attacks the very foundations of our nation,” Johnson wrote.
“Battling the terrifying rise in racist hate crimes, bigoted rhetoric from politicians and pundits, and online radicalization MUST be made a priority by our nation’s leaders,” he added.
Recently, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned witnesses at a hearing titled “Examining the ‘Metastasizing’ Domestic Terrorism Threat After the Buffalo Attack.” During the hearing, Padilla spoke about the alarming rise in domestic terrorism.
“America is a nation of immigrants,” Padilla said. “In America, we believe that we’re all created equal and should enjoy equal rights. So it’s deeply disturbing to me to see right-wing media figures… as well as politicians, including the former president, prompting racism, hatred, and division in the United States of America — sometimes subtly, sometimes not subtle at all.”
Padilla noted that racist conspiracy theories are often hiding in plain sight, and that reporting the spread of these theories and relevant threats of violence to law enforcement could help prevent future attacks.
“So, it’s important that we shine a light on to these frightening ideologies that fuel domestic terrorism, so we can stop the spread of violent hate,” he said.
Reporting hate crimes
Hate crimes are notoriously under-reported. A national survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that less than half of all hate crimes were reported to the police. Other factors that may inhibit victims from reporting hate crimes include fear of retaliation, cultural and linguistic isolation, unfamiliarity with the criminal justice system, and previous negative experiences with law enforcement.
Locally, the LAPD defines hate crimes as “any criminal act or attempted criminal act directed against a person or persons based on the victim’s actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender.”
More than 42 percent of racial hate crimes targeted African-Americans. Black persons constitute 9 percent of the total population of Los Angeles County, but each year are grossly overrepresented as victims of racial hate crime. The most common criminal offense was vandalism (27 percent), followed by aggravated assault (25 percent), simple assault (20 percent), intimidation (17 percent), and disorderly conduct (7 percent).
African-Americans were again also over-represented as victims of sexual orientation (19 percent) and anti-transgender crimes (28 percent).
Crimes targeting African-Americans occurred most often in public places, followed by businesses, residences, schools, electronic communication, and government/public buildings).
Victims of a hate crime should call 9-1-1, or go to the nearest LAPD community police station. By understanding how and where hate is occurring, communities can respond with appropriate resources and support, which can include protecting your civil rights against hate and discrimination, processing trauma, beginning to heal, and doing something to prevent hate from happening to others.
It is essential to report a hate incident, which includes any act of verbal or physical aggression, refusal of service, bullying, or intimidation of any kind that is motivated by hostile prejudice.
Authorities cannot do anything to stop hate crimes and incidents unless they know about them, so that victims do not suffer in silence.
Anti-Hate Reporting Hotline
For those who have been victims of bullying or a hate motivated act, by dialing 2-1-1, they can now file a report as a victim, witness, or advocate for a victim of hate crimes, hate acts, or bullying as a part of the Anti-Hate Campaign.
The development of the 211 hate-incident reporting hotline establishes a centralized method across LA County for community members to report acts of hate and bullying, regardless of whether or not a crime has been committed.
The collection of these reports will increase data on what kind of hate incidents are occurring, where they are happening, and what populations are being targeted. With this information, a network of service providers will be able to target prevention and intervention efforts to reduce hate in the hardest hit Los Angeles’ communities.
By filing a report, a 211 LA Community Resource Advisor will be able to provide social service referrals, and with permission, share information to aid in future prevention efforts. Reporters will also be offered optional follow up from a 211 Care Coordinator to help them connect with support services. Reports may be filed anonymously and are not shared with law enforcement.
Since 1980, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations has compiled, analyzed, and produced an annual report of hate crime data submitted by sheriff and city police agencies, educational institutions, and community-based organizations. This report is one of the longest-standing efforts in the nation to document hate crime.
Using information from the report, the commission sponsors a number of ongoing programs related to preventing and combating hate crime, including the Network Against Hate Crime and the LA vs Hate Project.
There were 635 hate crimes reported in the County in 2020, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. According to the commission, there was explicit evidence of White supremacist ideology in 19 percet of all hate crimes.
According to SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang, steps need to be taken to stem the rise of hate crimes:
“We must fund prevention initiatives to steer individuals away from hate and ideologically motivated violence,” Huang said. “Stopping extremism in our country must be a holistic effort involving not just law enforcement, but also parents, caregivers and educators.
“We must ensure that everyone – and especially young people – are taught critical thinking skills and digital literacy so they can fend off misinformation, disinformation and online radicalization,” she added.
For additional information, phone the LA County Commission on Human Relations at (213) 738-2788.
The man accused of shooting three women at a northwest Dallas hair salon in an attack authorities say was a hate crime has been indicted on multiple felony charges.
A Dallas County grand jury handed up indictments Tuesday morning against Jeremy Theron Smith, 37, on seven counts of aggravated assault. Police say Smith shot three women of Korean descent on May 11; four other people in the building were uninjured.
Police allege Smith entered the salon in the 2200 block of Royal Lane with a .22-caliber rifle and fired 13 times before fleeing in a red van. A witness saw part of the van’s license plate, which led authorities to Smith.
Smith’s attorney, Don Guidry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bias increases potential sentence
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said the grand jury found Smith not only committed aggravated assault, but did so with a racial bias. Creuzot said the bias component increases the potential punishment on each count — usually two to 20 years for aggravated assault — to five to 99 years or life in prison.
“It’s a hate crime,” García said then. “However that manifests itself, I’m not here to say. I can tell you I know our community sees it as a hate crime, and I see it as a hate crime.”
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said in a statement at the time that it was a “chilling and deeply disturbing” conclusion.
“I want our city’s Asian American community — which has appallingly faced increasing vitriol in recent years — to know that the City of Dallas and the people of Dallas stand with them,” Johnson said.
‘Delusions’ about Asian people
According to an arrest-warrant affidavit, Smith’s girlfriend told police he had been admitted to several mental-health facilities because of his delusions about Asian people, in which he believes “the Asian mob is after him or attempting to harm him.”
The girlfriend said the delusions started about two years ago after Smith was involved in a car crash with an Asian man.
Smith had also been fired from a previous job for “verbally attacking” his boss, who was Asian, his girlfriend told authorities.
García said the salon attack may have been linked to two other shootings targeting Dallas’ Asian community.
On April 2, someone shot into three Asian-owned businesses in the 2200 block of Royal Lane, and witnesses said the shooter fled in a red van. No one was injured.
The day before the salon shooting, someone believed to be driving a red van fired into an Asian-run business in east Oak Cliff. No one was hurt in that shooting either.
It was unclear Tuesday whether charges had been filed in those cases.
‘Nightmare. Trauma. Insomnia.’
In the months since the shooting, the victims and their families have grappled with trauma; pain, fear and nightmares have disrupted their lives and their businesses.
John Park, a physician in New York, said his mother, who has not been publicly identified, was one of the three women wounded at the salon. She was shot in her gluteal area, while another victim was shot in the arm and the third was injured in both of her feet.
Park said before the attack, his mother was an active person who enjoyed golfing, gardening and going out to eat with her friends at Korean restaurants, and would occasionally volunteer at nursing homes with her other son. After the shooting, however, Park said she has displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including being unable to sleep, and what he believes are signs of depression.
The woman shot in the arm, who asked to be identified as M.J., was a head designer at the salon, but said her injuries had caused immense pain, preventing her from using her right arm.
“More painful thing is the feeling that why this happen to me,” she said. “Nightmare. Trauma. Insomnia.”
Following a shooting that injured three women of Korean descent at a northwest Dallas hair salon, police Chief Eddie García said the incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime, and may be connected to at least two other recent shootings that targeted the city’s Asian American community.
If defined as such, the shooting would be one of only nine hate crimes reported by the department this year, a figure the FBI Dallas Division said does not coincide with the “deep fear” felt by communities across the nation.
“We know that it has to be more than nine,” Dallas FBI spokeswoman Melinda Urbina told The Dallas Morning News. “We see the fear, we see what they’re fearing, so why are we not seeing it reflected in the numbers we’re looking at?”
It’s a complex question due to personal hesitations, language barriers and legal obstacles that make classifying a hate crime a lengthy and, at times, arduous process. Getting a handle on the scope of hate crime is difficult, and the reported data is slippery.
What is considered a hate crime?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in the context of hate crime law, the word “hate” does not mean rage, anger or general dislike, but rather bias against people or groups with specific characteristics, such as the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
The DOJ said hate crimes also have a broader effect than most other crimes because they include not only the immediate target, but others like that person, including families and entire communities.
Dallas Police Department statistics updated Tuesday show a total of nine hate crimes have been reported in the city so far in 2022, compared to 13 this time last year. According to the data, none from either year was against an Asian American.
Of the hate crimes reported, two were against Black people, and the remaining seven were against members of the LGBTQ community. As for the types of crime committed, three were by assault, another three by vandalism or destruction of property, two were theft and one was intimidation.
But the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino reports that in 2020, Dallas had 62 total hate crimes and six were against Asian Americans. The jump in numbers could indicate a dramatic increase in hate crime or the difficulty categorizing such crime.
According to the FBI, there were 8,263 hate crimes across the U.S. in 2020.
Because they have not been officially classified as hate crimes, the recent Texas shootings that are under investigation by Dallas police are not reflected in the database, but include the following:
On April 2, someone drove by and shot into three Asian-owned businesses in the same shopping center. Witnesses told police that the shooter was in a red minivan.
On May 10, a man who was believed to be driving a burgundy minivan shot into an Asian-run business in the 4800 block of Sunnyvale Street in east Oak Cliff.
On Wednesday, a man fired multiple shots into the World Hair Salon before fleeing in a red minivan. The women were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t life-threatening.
At a Monday meeting with members of the Korean American community in Dallas, García said although he does not believe hate crimes are on track to rise rapidly, “whether they were high or whether they were low, this happened, so we have to address it and we need to understand that we need to do more for our community.”
A resident said she hopes to see Dallas police do more to explain the resources that are available to the community, including training, and added she thinks law enforcement can do a better job explaining the importance of reporting crimes.
Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, previously told The News the underreporting of discrimination and violence has been a “pervasive problem” within the Asian American community.
“People don’t want to be public about it because they’re scared,” Wu said. “They’re scared of being targeted again, and frankly, they’re a lot more scared of authority or being labeled as a troublemaker.”
Hate crime data not required by law
The lack of public data, however, can be attributed to factors well beyond personal responsibility.
For instance, federal law does not require state, local, tribal or college and university law enforcement to submit data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. Even when a crime is reported to the program, it’s only after an investigation by the law enforcement agency results in an “objective” basis to conclude a hate crime took place, according to the DOJ.
In addition, a report from Northeastern University in Boston said proving bias-motivation is difficult because there are usually numerous motivations underlying criminal conduct, and prosecutors may even decline to pursue hate crime charges because of how they might impact sentencing.
These obstacles have spurred efforts to get more data. In October, the FBI Dallas Division, among others nationwide, joined an FBI Headquarters initiative to build public awareness of hate crimes and to encourage reporting to law enforcement.
“Over the last five years, there’s been a 25% increase in reported hate crimes, even still, the vast majority of these crimes are going underreported and that needs to change,” said Thomas J. Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the FBI Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI can help, but only if we know about the crime.”
Urbina, the Dallas FBI spokeswoman, said the hate crime data from 2021 has not been compiled yet, but she hopes the campaign, along with law enforcement outreach and the “hyper-awareness” due to high profile incidents across the country will have assisted in breaking down barriers preventing reports.
“We’re all hoping to see it trending in a much better direction,” she said. “And if not, it’s the numbers that tell us where the work needs to be done.”
With the recent shooting and murder of 10 African Americans in Buffalo, NY last week and several shootings of Blacks and Asians in Dallas, some are saying that racially-motivated murders must be identified and prosecuted quickly.
The 18-year-old shooter in Buffalo who has been apprehended, travelled from hours away live streamed the event as he walked through the parking lot and into the Top’s Friendly Market supermarket, opening fire, said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia, at a press conference following the event. The suspect was fully armed in tactical gear.
“This was pure evil,” said Erie County Sheriff John Garcia. “It was a straight-up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community, outside of the city of good neighbors as the mayor said coming into our community and trying to inflict that evil upon us.”
In Dallas, there are several shootings under investigation and on Friday Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia announced the investigation of potential hate crimes in the city where Asian businesses have been attacked, including a beauty supply store and a salon.
Wounded salon owner Chang Hye Jin said she viewed the shooting as a hate crime because the shooter never demanded anything, just began shooting.
Calling attention to recent attacks on citizens in the Asian American community, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson shared comments, adding that “Hate has no place in our city.”
“The possibility that we are dealing with a violent gunman who is motivated by hate is chilling and deeply disturbing. I am grateful to Police Chief Eddie Garcia and the Dallas Police Department for their work investigating these cases”, said Mayor Johnson. “I encourage anyone with any information on these crimes to contact the Dallas Police Department immediately and to work with us to stop these senseless acts of violence.”
There were also two mass shootings at gatherings of large groups of predominantly African Americans, that have gone unsolved last month where a person was killed and almost a dozen injured at one concert and at another event a person was killed and 17 injured.
The Mayor’s Anti-Hate Advisory Council released a statement: “We offer our unwavering support to all the individuals impacted by this act of hate and stand in solidarity with the Asian American community. We will continue to work alongside Mayor Eric Johnson, the Dallas Police Department, the FBI, and neighboring law enforcement agencies to hold anyone associated with these acts accountable. We must work together to eradicate hate from our community.”
“This is the worst nightmare that any community can face,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “And we are hurting and we are seething right now as a community.”
By Lauren Victoria Burke NNPA Newswire Contributor
According to the FBI, the number of hate crimes in America rose 6 percent from the previous year in 2020. The increase was the highest level in 12 years. The main targets of hate crimes in the U.S. are Blacks and Asians.
The FBI reports that there were 7,759 hate crimes in 2020. That total was an increase of 6 percent from 2019 and the most since 2008. Hate crime numbers have risen steadily over the last seven years.
The new numbers feature attacks targeting Black people. Hate crimes on Black people went up from 1,930 to 2,755 in 2020.
“These statistics show a rise in hate crimes committed against Black and African-Americans, already the group most often victimized. Notably, they show a rise in hate crimes committed against members of the Asian-American Pacific Islander community. This also confirms what we have seen and heard through our work and from our partners,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement on the report.
“Preventing and responding to hate crimes and hate incidents is one of the Justice Department’s highest priorities. The FBI Hate Crime Statistics for 2020 demonstrates the urgent need for a comprehensive response,” Garland added.
During the presidency of Donald Trump hate crimes rose. With a President who has mainstreamed the rhetoric of White nationalists, the groups have become more emboldened. Trump’s policies on immigration gave preference to certain countries as Trump spoke of “building a wall” at the Mexican border.
During the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, which included the participation of members of The Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, several Black members of the U.S. Capitol Police reported racist slurs being hurled at them during the attack.
The FBI’s report on August 30 is one of several that has focused on rising hate crimes in the U.S.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke