An assault on two Columbia residents from the Middle East that occurred Aug. 7 is not being classified as a hate crime, according to the Columbia Police Department.
“There just isn’t enough evidence to prove that the assailants were motivated because of race,” said Investigative Division Commander Mike Martin.
So far in Columbia this year, seven incidents have been treated as hate crimes by Columbia police and none by MU police. Although the Aug. 7 incident has not been deemed a hate crime, one of the men attacked thinks his nationality made him a target.
The police report states that Haitham Alramahi, 22, was walking home about 2 a.m. when he was struck by a car at Sixth and Cherry streets. He was in the crosswalk, but the car did not stop at the stop sign. He said four or five men got out of the car.
“I thought they were going to help me,” said Alramahi in an interview. Instead, they shouted racial epithets at him, telling him to go back to Iraq, he said.
When Alramahi, born in Jordan to a Palestinian father and a Greek mother, protested, the assailants began to punch and kick him. “It came from everywhere,” Alramahi said. “I didn’t even have time to get away.”
Noticing the scuffle, another man approached the group and tried to intervene, the police report stated. But he, too, was pulled into the fight. The man, who said he is from Jordan, declined to be interviewed for this story and asked that his name not be used because he fears retribution.
The police report states that a truck pulled up and another four men got out and joined in the scuffle.
Both victims, separated during the fight, suffered minor injuries. Alramahi walked alone to University Hospital, where he was treated for cuts and bruises. His front teeth also were cracked.
“It happened because we were Arabs,” said Alramahi, who plans to study radiology at MU. “Some people find out I’m an Arab, and they think I’m a terrorist.”
Although the ethnicity of the victims may have played a role in the attack, police doubt that the incident can be legally classified as a hate crime.
“It does not fit the statute,” Martin said.
Chapter 557 of the Missouri Revised Statutes defines a hate crime as an incident “which the state believes to be knowingly motivated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability of the victims.” (The Complete Searchable Missouri Revised Statutes are available on the CPD Web site: www.gocolumbiamo.com/police. Use the keyword “hate crime.”)
Martin said that simply using racist language during an assault does not automatically mean the crime was originally perpetrated because of race. Hate crimes are generally difficult to prove, he said.
In compliance with the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, which requires the U.S. attorney general to collect data on hate crimes, Columbia police report quarterly on hate crime activity to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Program.
In the past five years, there have been 37 hate crimes in Columbia: eight in 2000, five in 2001, six in 2002, three in 2003, eight in 2004, and seven so far in 2005.
MU also keeps records of hate crimes that occur on campus. MU police Capt. Brian Weimer said six hate crimes have been reported on campus since 2001: two in 2001, none in 2002, one in 2003, three in 2004 and none so far in 2005.
The majority of hate crimes reported at MU involved sexual orientation, Weimer said, and one, which occurred just after Sept. 11, targeted a Middle Eastern man.
Alramahi, who has lived in Columbia since August 2001, said this is the first time anything like this has happened to him.
“I can’t judge all of Columbia because of this one incident,” he said. “People are nice here, very nice.”
No arrests have been made in the case. Alramahi described the car that hit him as dark and small, possibly a Mitsubishi or a Toyota, and said that two women witnessed the assaults.
Anyone with information is requested to contact CrimeStoppers at 875-8477. Callers do not have to give their names and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to an arrest.