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Hate Crimes Remain Difficult to Prosecute in Texas

Hate Crimes Remain Difficult to Prosecute in Texas

Hate crimes again made headlines in recent weeks when a gunman killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta.

The Biden administration faces pressure to bring hate crime charges against shooter Robert Aaron Long, 21, over the killings. However, the incident demonstrated flaws in the federal legislation, according to the Washington Post.

The hate crimes issue has again been raised in Texas after an attack on the Asian owner of a beauty supply shop in Houston was caught on camera. 

Jung Kim, who owns Uptown Beauty Supply, told KWTX 10 she was attacked by five women who used racial slurs. Two women were charged with assault but neither the Houston Police Department nor the Harris County District Attorney’s Office referred to the incident as a hate crime, the channel reported.

Another channel, KHOU-11, noted prosecutors seldom bring hate crime charges in Texas. The state’s hate crime legislation has been on its books since 2001.

Legislators named the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act after a crime in the Lone Star State that shocked the nation. Byrd, a 49-year-old African American, was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck. His killers left his mangled body in front of an African-American church and cemetery.

In 2019, John William King, a self-confessed racist, was put to death by lethal injection in Texas. The execution was carried out 21 years after King and two other white men killed Byrd in 1998.

Prosecutors intent on bringing hate crimes charges face considerable obstacles in Texas. The authorities must prove a suspect “acted out of bias toward the victim’s perceived race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference.”

That’s not easy to do in practice. A ProPublica analysis of the five years from 2010 to 2015 found 981 cases of potential hate crimes in Texas. Just five ended up in specific hate crime convictions, only 5% of the original caseload.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis who played a major role in enacting Texas’s hate crimes law told KHOU-11 proving intent to commit a hate crime beyond all reasonable doubt  is challenging to prosecutors.

Hate crimes appear to have spiked in Texas and the nation as a whole in recent years. The Federal Bureau of Investigations’ statistics for 2018 showed the number of hate crimes committed in Texas increased by nearly 240% from 2017 to 2018. Dallas recorded 31 hate crimes that year, more than double its figure for 2016.

The figures in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Recording Program are drawn from statistics voluntarily given to the federal agency by local and state-wide agencies. Although they appear to point to increases in hate crimes in Texas in recent years, they may also reflect a greater awareness of these offenses with the public and police reporting more of them than in previous years.

Racially-motivated crimes saw the biggest rises in Texas. Incidents concerning sexual orientation, religion, and disability also increased. Racist cases rose from 117 in 2017 to 314 in 2018, according to the FBI.

If you or a family member has been accused of a hate crime in Dallas or elsewhere in Texas, please call our Dallas criminal defense team at (214) 720-9552.