Feb 6, 2024 - News

Austin stabbing to be reviewed as possible hate crime

Illustration of several police cruiser lights, some of them transparent.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Austin police said the stabbing of a Palestinian American in West Campus this weekend was "bias-motivated" and will be sent to the department's Hate Crimes Review Committee.

Why it matters: The decision comes after pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to classify the charges as hate crimes, saying the suspect targeted a group of Palestinian and Muslim Americans leaving a pro-Palestinian rally.

Catch up quick: Zacharia Doar, identified by his father in a press conference, was stabbed Sunday evening.

  • Bert James Baker, 36, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and the victim was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Austin police.
  • University of Texas police said the victim and suspect are not affiliated with the university.
  • CAIR said the injured man is a 23-year-old Palestinian American.

What they're saying: The victim's father Nizar Doar said his son is recovering in hospital following surgery.

  • "He's in pain. He's in agony," he told reporters yesterday.

Zoom in: Witnesses told police that Baker, who was on a bike, yelled at four men in a pickup truck and used racial slurs near Nueces and 26th streets, according to an affidavit obtained by KVUE.

  • The four passengers got out of the truck and a fight ensued before Baker pulled out a long knife and attacked the man, according to the affidavit.
  • "We welcome the swift recognition of the alleged motive for this attack and call on law enforcement authorities to bring appropriate charges," CAIR said in a statement yesterday, which identified Doar as a 23-year-old Palestinian American man. "Every American should be free to express their political views, wear symbols of their culture and practice their faith without fear of attack or intimidation."

Of note: CAIR and other advocacy groups have urged Austin City Council members to sign a resolution in support of a ceasefire in Gaza.

  • City Council member Zohaib "Zo" Qadri, who released a joint statement in December with council members Vanessa Fuentes and José Velásquez in support of a ceasefire, said he's "deeply troubled" by the stabbing.
  • Other council members have been reluctant to call for a ceasefire, the Austin Chronicle reported.

Between the lines: The West Campus incident comes amid an "unprecedented" surge in complaints of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and subsequent Israel-Hamas war, according to December data from CAIR.

What's next: Once the committee reviews the case, the information will be sent to the Travis County District Attorney's Office. It's up to the prosecuting office — not the investigative unit — to elevate the offense, according to the APD.

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