Attorneys probing possible racial motives in Florida assault
There is presently no evidence that the attack on a Bahamasair airport manager in Pembroke Pines, Florida, last month was racially motivated, said attorneys for 56-year-old Harold Williams.
“We are still investigating to see whether there is any direct evidence of racism,” said civil rights attorney Jasmine Rand during a press conference on Saturday.
“That is something that we suspect may have motivated the incident, but until we have hard evidence that it was in fact motivated by race, we will not take the position that it was racially motivated.
“But should those facts arrive, and believe me we are investigating every day, to see whether or not it was an act of racism and was racially motivated…then we would absolutely push for this to be charged as a hate crime and we will pursue it as an act of racism in a civil capacity as well.”
On March 16, Williams entered Pines Market to use the restroom and as he walked toward the rear of the business, one of the employees allegedly struck him in the cheek with an eight to 10-inch kitchen knife.
A 24-year-old named Fawaz Hassan was initially charged with second degree aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
The suspect claimed that he was defending himself, according to the Pembroke Pines Police Department.
However, police said, “Our investigation did not reveal that the victim was armed, or presented any threat to the suspect.”
Benjamin Crump, another one of Williams’ representatives, said that there needs to be a thorough investigation into whether there was any racial motivation.
“We are ashamed that we are here today to talk about the need to make absolute certain that there’s a thorough investigation to discover whether or not the unprovoked stabbing of Harold Williams, a Bahamian citizen who was visiting America, was done because of the color of his skin,” Crump said.
“It’s just a shame that we have to have these questions continually vetted in 2019.
“We expect, attorney Rand and I, and we will demand that Harold Williams, as a Bahamian citizen, be given full faith and credit to due process of the law and administration of justice as if he was an American citizen.
“We would expect no less of an American citizen who was viciously attacked without provocation while visiting The Bahamas. So it should be no different with a Bahamian citizen visiting America, that we will expect full justice and nothing less.”
The attorneys revealed on Saturday that following a press conference in Florida two weeks ago, where they advocated for a stricter charge against the suspect, the prosecutor informed Williams that the previous charge will be increased to first degree aggravated battery with a deadly weapon resulting in permanent bodily disfigurement.
The initial charge only carried a fifteen-year maximum sentence, whereas the new charge carries a maximum thirty-year sentence.
Florida police are still investigating the matter, but according to Crump, “based on past tragedies in America, we find it appropriate that we do our own investigation as well, in parallel with the government’s investigation into this matter”.
Additionally, Rand noted that Williams will be pursing legal action against the establishment, which has since closed its doors for business.
Road to recovery
Williams said the events of that day continue to haunt him mentally and physically.
“The effect of the stab has really plagued on my mental psyche,” he said.
“At night when I go to bed I still see the young man’s face; I still see the knife.”
He noted that he now suffers from high blood pressure and has a dent in his face that remains a constant reminder of the incident.
Williams, who has been traveling to Fort Lauderdale and South Florida for more than 30 years, added that he is traumatized and is now fearful of traveling to the United States.
“What happened to me in Pembroke Pines could have really happened to any one of us as Bahamians,” he said.
“…It is unconscionable to think that you would go into an establishment and you would be attacked by the owners of the establishment, just for simply asking to use the restroom, unprovoked, unarmed.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications