AUSTIN, Texas — The stabbing of a 23-year-old Palestinian American who advocates say was attacked near the University of Texas campus while riding in a truck displaying support for Palestine merits the label of a hate crime, Austin police announced Wednesday.
Bert James Baker, 36, was arrested following the Sunday evening attack on Zacharia Doar, who was hospitalized. Baker was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Police said Wednesday that their Hate Crimes Review Committee had determined that the stabbing met the definition of a hate crime. They have provided that information to prosecutors, who will make the final decision on whether to enhance the offense.
The Travis County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that they are in the process of receiving the evidence from police and “look forward to working with them.”
Doar was one of four Muslim Americans who were in the truck, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which said Baker allegedly tried to rip a flagpole with a keffiyeh scarf reading “Free Palestine” off of their vehicle. CAIR said the four had previously attended a pro-Palestinian protest.
An arrest affidavit said that Baker, who was on a bicycle, rode up to the truck Doar and three others were riding in, opened the tailgate and doors and yelled racial slurs at them. The group exited the truck and approached Baker, who punched Doar in the shoulders, the affidavit said. A fight ensued, with Baker eventually pulling out a knife and stabbing Doar in the rib, the affidavit said.
When Baker was interviewed by police, he said he was an alcoholic and had more to drink that day than he normally did, the affidavit said.
@CAIRAustin had a press conference yesterday calling on law enforcement to consider the attack a hate crime.
Nizar Doar, Zachariah’s father and head of security for the protest said, “I came to protect my people and I failed to protect my son.”
Zacharia and his 5-month-old son pic.twitter.com/AaqM0ULCiT
— Maryam A. (@Maryamahm92) February 7, 2024
Baker was being held in jail on Thursday on $100,000 bond. Jail records did not list an attorney for him.
Threats against Jewish communities have increased significantly across the US during the Israel-Hamas war as have ones against Muslim and Arab communities.
In Vermont in November, three college students of Palestinian descent were shot and seriously wounded while taking an evening walk in an attack that authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime. In October, a landlord in Illinois was accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy and wounding his mother. He was charged with a hate crime after police and relatives said he singled out the victims because of their faith.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report