The greater Houston area became the center of national attention, for the wrong reasons this past week, as a young White male, Conrad Alvin Barrett, 27, of Katy, Texas, near Houston, was charged with one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
U.S. District Court Judge Frances H. Stacy denied bail to Barrett this past Friday, after he was charged for a federal hate crime in connection with a "Knockout Game" attack on an elderly Black man that authorities say was racially motivated.
THE "KNOCKOUT GAME"
The "Knockout Game" is a premeditated attack in which an assailant aims to knock out an unsuspecting victim with one punch. No other crime is committed, just that of knocking out a person who never saw it coming.
According to the Justice Department complaint, the "Knockout Game" has been called different names over the years and has been known to have first hit the scene and given attention around 1992. More attention has been given to the "Knockout Game" recently, because there have been reports of numerous incidents taking place and a number of the assailants have gotten bolder by recording their assaults by cellphone video.
Many of these videos began to go viral, as the video that spread like wildfire in late November, where a White male teacher from Pennsylvania is seen walking in broad daylight when a young Black teenager emerges from a group of other Black youths and "knocks" the school teacher out. The 50-year-old school teacher is seen falling to the concrete and lying motionless while the young assailant and his cohorts run away from the scene. The teacher survived the attack.
Not all cases have been known to be racially motivated, but the case involving Barrett was deemed as such.
HATE CRIME CHARGE
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which is the federal hate crimes law, was passed by Congress in 2009, and gives the FBI authority to investigate violent crimes committed because of gender, race, color, religion or national origin.
Federal prosecutors contend Barrett attacked the 79-year-old Black man because of the color of his skin. The complaint alleges that Barrett attacked the elderly Black man on November 24th, recorded the assault on his cellphone and showed the video to other people.
The complaint also states that Barrett made several videos, including one in which he identifies himself and another person and then proceeds to make a racial slur. The complaint also alleges that Barrett’s attack was premeditated and that he’d been planning to play the knockout game for about a week. According to a federal affidavit filed in the case, Barrett allegedly says in the video that "the plan is to see if I were to hit a Black person, would this be nationally televised?"
He then allegedly "hit the man with such force that the man immediately fell to the ground. Barrett then laughed and said ‘knockout,’ as he ran to his vehicle and fled."
Barrett’s attorney, George Parnham, raised the issue of his client’s mental health in court, saying his client has been diagnosed as bipolar and was not on his medication at the time of the attack.
In a letter to the court, the victim asked the judge not to release Barrett.
"Judge, I am the man who was attacked by Conrad Barrett. I hope he will not be released because I am afraid he will hurt me if he is released," said the victim in the letter that was read in court by a federal prosecutor. "Since the attack, I’ve had to live with my children and have people take care of me. If you set him free, I’ll worry that he can attack me again at any time. Please do not release him and give me my freedom."
The unidentified victim was hospitalized for more than four days and required surgery to repair two broken jaw fractures, authorities said.
Judge Stacy believed there was sufficient evidence to show Barrett committed the assault, which she described as a hate crime.
"I do not believe there are any conditions that will guarantee the safety of the community," Judge Stacy said in her ruling. "The crime was vicious. The victim lost three teeth. He was an old man. He was singled out because of his race."
Barrett, who appeared in U.S. District Court in Houston wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and some leg shackles, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, if convicted under the federal hate crimes law.
TRIO CHARGED AND SENTENCED
The Houston Forward Times (HFT) reported back in 2012 about the trio of White supremacists from Houston, who became the first to be convicted under the federal hate crimes law, after being found guilty of severely beating and assaulting Yondell Johnson, a 29-year old Black man.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt sentenced Brian Kerstetter to 33 to 77 months in prison; Michael McLaughlin, 41, to a 30 month prison term, and Charles Cannon, 26, to a 37-month prison term. All three must also serve three years of supervised release after their prison terms.
This was the first conviction in Texas, and in Harris County, under the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Johnson, a 29-year-old father at the time, had just come from visiting his 12-year-old daughter, and was approached by three white supremacists while he was sitting at a downtown Houston bus stop on Travis and McKinney.
COMMUNITY LEADERS SPEAK OUT
At a press conference held this past Sunday at the CAIR (Coalition for American Islamic Relations) Headquarters, 5445 Almeda Rd., several community leaders came together to speak up and out on this pressing national issue that has hit so close to home.
Press Conference host Mustafaa Carroll who serves as the CAIR-TX Executive Director believes that the "Knockout Game" is a deplorable and cowardly act that should concern all citizens.
"CAIR-TX stands firmly with community members against violence acts especially those perpetrated against the elderly and is against physical or emotional abuse for any reason."
Press conference organizer and community activist Deric Muhammad emphatically stated that the knockout game is not a way to show strength, physical prowess, courage or bravery, but is rather an act of COWARDICE to "steal off" on an unsuspecting individual.
"If you are practicing this ‘game’ as if though it is some sort of ‘prank’ you should be ashamed of yourself," said Deric Muhammad. "We are calling on all who would engage in this sort of savage behavior to stop it now. If you keep doing it; it becomes more popular. And the more popular it becomes the more likely it will happen to your mother, your daughter, your grandmother, your grandfather. What benefit to you get from knocking a person unconscious who has done nothing to you?"
"It is time that we as a community stand in unity to "Knock out the Knockout Game, said Pastor E. A. Deckard of the Green House International Church. "It is NOT a game. In a game you have winners and losers. In the knockout game there are no winners; only losers."
Minister Robert Muhammad stated, "I am on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. We, my generation, are afraid of Generation X and Generation Y. We are afraid of children and our grandchildren."
Civil Rights Activist Shelby Stewart declared that "to sucker punch an unsuspecting individual for no reason whatsoever is the height of cowardice."
All speakers at the press conference focused on the cowardly act of the "Knockout Game" itself, but did not shy away from speaking about the Barrett case directly.
"We stand behind the federal charges filed against Conrad Barrett for his cowardly assault against and unidentified elderly Black brother," said Deric Muhammad. "Our prayers are with the victim and his family and we hope and pray that justice prevails in this case, because justice is a critical component of healing for the injured party and his loved ones. No human being should ever be attacked for the color of the skin, the choice of their religion or the orientation of their lifestyle. We agree with the federal judge’s denial of bail for Mr. Barrett. His supporters say he should be freed because he is mentally unstable. I say that’s the very reason he should stay locked up."
All attendees indicated that they condemn, in the strongest terms, the ‘so-called’ "Knockout Game"; not just because an elderly Black man was attacked by a young White racist, but because they believe it to be a vile, sick and barbaric form of urban recreation.
"We condemn this ‘so-called’ Knockout Game when it’s White on Black. We condemn it when it’s Black on White. We condemn it when it’s White on White. And we certainly condemn it when it’s Black on Black," said Deric Muhammad. "There is no place in society for this kind of dangerous trend."
Parnham, Barrett’s attorney, said his client has bipolar disorder and is taking lithium while in the detention facility. As of today, Barrett’s next court date had not yet been set.
The HFT will be following and monitoring this case until the very end and will keep you posted.