Stanley Vernon Majors was a neighbor from hell.
For five years, according to witness accounts and court papers, Majors terrorized the Jabara family living next door to him in suburban Tulsa, Oklahoma.
He disrupted their family gatherings. He hassled visitors if they parked in front of his house. He hurled racial slurs at a black friend of the family. He even made false claims to health inspectors, the Jabaras said, sabotaging their lucrative catering contract providing hummus to Whole Foods stores.
Majors often mentioned the family’s Arab roots in his tirades; one police report quoted him as calling them “filthy Lebanese.” He also used “Ay-rabs” and “Mooslems,” recalled the Jabaras, who are Christians.
The harassment took a violent turn last September, when Majors was charged with ramming his car into the Jabara family’s 65-year-old matriarch, Haifa, who suffered a collapsed lung, head trauma and broken bones from her nose to her ankle. Majors was awaiting trial on charges from that incident when, last Friday, according to the authorities, he walked next door and fired four shots at 37-year-old Khalid Jabara, killing him on his front porch.
92Number of U.S. cities reporting no hate crimes in 2014
Among Arab and Muslim Americans, the case immediately was viewed as a hate crime, with Jabara portrayed as the latest victim in a bloody wave of attacks against people perceived as foreigners or Muslims. “Hate was definitely part of it. This guy did hate our family,” said Jabara’s brother, Rami, speaking by phone to McClatchy this week.
Yet despite the well-documented history of Majors’ targeting the family, there’s no guarantee that prosecutors will seek hate crime charges in addition to the murder charge against him. Legal specialists who track hate-crime prosecutions nationwide say the Jabara case is likely to run into the same hurdles that civil rights advocates have warned about in numerous studies: Hate crime laws can be prohibitively difficult to use, narrow as to what offenses are covered, and dependent on police who often have no obligation to report – or lack training in how to respond to – crimes involving bias.
That disconnect – having laws on the books but problems using them – is a source of growing frustration for Arab-American, Muslim and other civil rights activists who have seen numerous attacks that appear to have been motivated by racial or religious hatred, but weren’t considered that way under the law. The result, activists say, is the loss of confidence in the justice system just as a nasty political climate deepens fears of bias-motivated attacks.
“We are concerned that, generally, the crimes are not being prosecuted in the way that we would hope,” said Madihha Ahussain, a staff attorney who follows the issue for the nonprofit Muslim Advocates. “There’s a lot of inconsistency and we hope that the communities speaking out more will change the course of the way these incidents are being prosecuted and reported.”
He hated black people; he hated foreigners. Those are the facts.
Muslim Advocates has compiled a nationwide list of more than 100 reported hate crimes against Muslims – or those targeted because they are thought to be Muslim – since terrorist attacks struck Paris last November. The group is still examining the outcomes for a case-by-case analysis, Ahussain said, but so far, of the more than 100 cases, “many are not deemed a hate crime under the law or they’re not charged as a hate crime.”
The concern is not limited to Arab-Americans and Muslims. Hate-crime monitors say incidents involving racial, ethnic and gender bias are under-reported across all categories of people. Heidi Beirich, a specialist on extremism who leads the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks violent extremism, said one of the most striking discrepancies in official tallies can be found within the Justice Department.
The FBI’s annual tally of reported hate-related offenses hovers around 6,000; the most recent survey, released last November, listed 5,479. Compare that, Beirich said, with the findings of another Justice Department branch that said some 260,000 people suffer hate crimes each year, based on the government’s National Crime Victimization Survey.
“The numbers are incredibly out of whack,” Beirich said. “The FBI’s numbers tell you nothing.”
Beirich said that the problem is exacerbated by procedures that vary depending on the jurisdiction.
Attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims don’t count under hate crime laws across the Deep South, she said. Some states’ codes don’t apply to murder cases. Five states have no hate-crime statutes at all, including South Carolina, where Dylann Roof is charged in the shooting deaths of nine black worshipers at a Charleston church last summer. In that case, the Justice Department stepped in and slapped Roof with federal hate crime charges.
But federal intervention doesn’t automatically lead to a hate-crime charge. A case with similarities to the one in Tulsa occurred in Chapel Hill, N.C., where a white man faces three first-degree murder charges in the shooting deaths of Arab-American Muslims who were his neighbors. After a public outcry, the FBI launched a review but hasn’t yet issued a determination on whether the killings could be classified as hate crimes.
In another emerging case, activist groups are monitoring New York authorities’ investigation into whether the shooting deaths of a Queens imam and his aide last week were hate crimes. Local officials have said they haven’t ruled out that possibility.
And in a case out of Indiana, there are still no charges in the mysterious deaths of three young men of Sudanese origin – reportedly two Muslims and a Christian – who were shot execution-style last February. Police there have played down the idea that a hate crime had been committed, infuriating activists who responded by creating the hashtags #OurThreeBrothers and #OurThreeBoys to raise awareness of the racial and religious angles of the case.
The unreliability of official hate crime tallies becomes clear in statistics that show how many large U.S. cities either report zero hate crimes or don’t report at all, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism.
According to the ADL’s most recent study, for 2014, the 92 cities that reported zero hate crimes include Miami and Tampa in Florida; Raleigh, Durham and Winston-Salem in North Carolina, and Arlington, Plano and Irving in Texas. Cities that submitted no report were just as scattered: Honolulu, Hawaii; Portland, Oregon; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Columbus, Georgia.
Tulsa, where Jabara was killed, hasn’t reported a hate crime since 2010, when it listed three.
The numbers will remain skewed until there’s broader buy-in from local authorities and a sense of urgency about recording these crimes, said Steven Freeman, deputy director of policy and programs at the Anti-Defamation League.
“There’s not one magic wand,” Freeman said. “It’s an ongoing challenge that’s got to have the FBI understanding the importance of it, and police chiefs saying, down their chain of commands, ‘Let’s do it, and let’s get it right.’ ”
The Justice Department didn’t make an official available for comment in time for publication, but pointed out recent public remarks in which Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s civil rights division, acknowledged the chorus of voices demanding more specific data in hate crime information collection. Gupta told audiences that the FBI last year updated collection guidelines and introduced separate categories to track crimes targeting Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker said that ethnic hatred was among the motivations police were investigating in the Jabara case. Still, he emphasized, it was too soon to say whether the evidence pointed to a hate crime.
Walker said that the current priority wasn’t proving a bias element but building a murder case so airtight that Majors would be locked up “for the rest of his natural life.”
“The Jabara family – we are on their side,” Walker said. “To have your son shot and killed in your doorway? Good Lord.”
The Jabara family told McClatchy that they were leaning toward not pushing for a hate-crime charge because it would be one more element to prove without resulting in a longer sentence if Majors is convicted of murder. However, the family stressed in their joint interview, that doesn’t diminish their belief that their Arab heritage was a key reason Majors singled them out for years of torment.
“Hate fueled the most recent acts,” said Vicky Jabara, Khalid’s sister. “We’re not comfortable saying that’s the only thing, but he hated black people; he hated foreigners. Those are the facts.”