Despite years of anti-Muslim postings online, prosecutors were ‘dismissive’ of the possible hate crime, deeming it road rage gone wrong instead.
AUSTIN, Texas — A killing of a Muslim man in what some are calling road rage, and others a hate crime, is bringing renewed attention to the deadly consequences of Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.
The shooting occurred in Houston on June 26, 2015 when Ziad Abu Naim and his wife, Lisa Aimone, were driving to visit with one of Naim’s business clients on the way to his mosque for Friday prayers. After turning left at a four-way intersection just a block from their home, Abu Naim’s vehicle almost struck another vehicle, driven by Robert Craig Klimek, another Houston resident.
Moments later, as described by Leah Caldwell in a Jan. 4 report for Texas Observer, Abu Naim was on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound:
“[Klimek] made a right turn and pulled alongside Abu Naim’s Porsche SUV. Both men rolled down their windows. Aimone sat forward in her seat to catch a glimpse of the man in the other car, and that’s when she heard it: “Go back to Islam!” Abu Naim opened the door and stepped out of the car. Aimone kept her eyes on his back. Within a few seconds, she heard a single gunshot.”
Abu Naim never recovered consciousness and died in a Houston hospital three days later. Klimek told police he shot Abu Naim after Abu Naim reached inside his vehicle and punched him multiple times, while Aimone insists there was no time for any blows before the fatal gunshot, and that the shouted words point to a possible hate crime.
In September, a grand jury declined to indict Klimek on any crimes. His defense focused on Texas’ Stand Your Ground law. While 23 states have passed some form of Stand Your Ground self-defense law, Texas is considered one of the most most expansive self-defense laws in the country, Caldwell explained:
“In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed legislation explicitly stating that civilians have no ‘duty to retreat’ from their vehicles before using deadly force in self-defense. Instead of driving off, you can now legally shoot to kill in certain circumstances. Critics have said the law is so broad that it gives the trigger-happy carte blanche to shoot first and ask questions later.”
A 2012 study by researchers at Texas A&M University of states with Stand Your Ground laws similar to Florida’s found 600 homicides that could be attributed to the law between 2000 and 2010.
There’s also real concern that racial bias is at play in the enforcement of the law, and the state’s selection of whom to prosecute for these kind of road rage incidents. By including vehicles in the Texas version of the law, Professor Tamara Rice Lave of the University of Miami School of Law told Caldwell that it seems to encourage violence against minorities even when other options are available:
“‘If somebody’s in the car, the ignition is on, the foot is on the gas pedal, then they can easily drive away,’ she said. ‘If it was a white, upper-class mother getting out of her car and approaching a car, [and she were shot], do I think there would be an indictment? Yes, there would be. It makes a difference who the victim is.’”
Prosecutors also ignored Aimone’s demands that the killing be investigated as a hate crime. Although Caldwell’s investigation found years of anti-Muslim rhetoric posted online by Klimek, Aimone said officials were “dismissive” of the possibility, and added, “It was almost like too much work for them to find something to see if it was a hate crime.”
Watch “Texas Muslim Road Rage Victim Dies, Suspect Makes Bail, CAIR Seeks Hate Crime Probe” from Council on American-Islamic Relations: