This year has been marked by a global pandemic, but another public health crisis has also been growing behind the scenes: people being charged with racially motivated and hate crimes.
The last example of such racist violence alleged by the U.S. government came Tuesday when a Michigan man was charged by federal prosecutors with a hate crime for “willfully causing bodily injury to an African-American teenager because of the teenager’s race.” But the devil was in the details as Lee Mouat, a 42-year-old white man, stands accused of repeatedly calling a group of Black teens the N-word before retrieving a bike lock from his car and hitting one of them in the face with it, breaking his jaw and knocking out several teeth. All because they allegedly would not turn down the music they were playing on a portable speaker.
The criminal complaint claims that Mouat confronted Devin Freelon Jr. and two of his friends in a parking lot at Sterling State Park in Monroe County.
“Niggers don’t belong on this beach,” the complaint claims Mouat said. “While [Freelon] retrieved a portable speaker from a vehicle, MOAUT yelled racial slurs at [his] two friends, who were also AfricanAmerican teenagers. As [Freelon] walked over to his friends with the portable speaker, he noticed MOAUT walking quickly towards him. MOUAT swung an object, which struck [Freelon] in the face.”
One witness, claiming Mouat’s racist violence was premeditated, said he was angry at the Black teens before confronting them. The witness claims Mouat said “these niggers are playing gang music” and “I want to hit them with this cooler.” The complaint also says the witness claimed Mouat called them “niggers” and “monsters” and added that “I wish someone would say something to me so I can beat them.”
If convicted, Mouat could be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
The most recent annual FBI report on hate crimes is from 2018 and shows that year hit a 16-year high for what the New York Times described as “Personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice.”
While hate crime data for last year was not immediately available, there is no shortage of examples of people being charged this year with a hate crime. It was seemingly an indication that those kinds of indictments are showing no signs of slowing at a time when there is a national reckoning on race amid ongoing protests against racism and violence.
There could be another hate crime charge brewing in the investigation into allegations that a group of white men yelling racial slurs pulled up in a car next to a Black woman driver in Wisconsin in June, sprayed her with a flammable liquid and threw a lit lighter at her, engulfing her head and neck in flames. Federal investigators and Madison police were expected to wrap up their investigation soon.
However, the legal threshold for not just charging a suspect with a hate crime but also successfully prosecuting it has been tricky at best. In May, DarQuan Jones, 22, said he was walking to his girlfriend’s house when he was attacked by three white men. Jones told officers that at least one of the suspects made racist comments during the assault.
While the local NAACP called for hate crime charges to be filed, the suspects were arrested and indicted for willful injury. That’s because, at least in Iowa, willful injury is a felony and charging a hare crime for an assault is a misdemeanor.
“I thought the hate crime they were trying to charge was too weak,” Daryl Jones, Darquan Jones’ father, told local news outlet KCCI 8. “It wasn’t going to work for us. It was a slap on the wrist.”
This is America.