HOUSTON - Earlier this month, a Muslim woman was hit and stabbed in northwest Harris County -- one of the few documented hate crimes committed in our area.
Over the last three years, the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Houston Police Department combined have documented nearly 50 hate crimes. Statewide, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported between 160 and nearly 200 hate crimes a year from 2014 to 2016.
The DPS 2016 report showed "race/ethnicity/ancestry" as the largest category of bias.
One of those cases involved Marc Crawford.
"I was very angry," Crawford said. "Who in the hell did this and why?"
Crawford said in 2014 he found a note taped to the bed of his pickup truck that was parked in the driveway of his Willowbrook-area home. The note contained a handwritten racial slur, along with the drawing of two stick figures. One figure was a white person pointing a gun at the figure of an African-American person hanging from a noose.
Crawford said investigators never found out who left the note or why.
"You pray that it's over, but there's so much going on that, deep down inside, you know that it's really not," Crawford said.
While this case showed a clear racial motivation, proving a crime is motivated by hate can be a difficult legal burden to meet.
"Oftentimes you find yourself basically trying to get into the head of the offender and determine what they were thinking at the time they committed the act," said Capt. Milton Martin, of HPD's Criminal Intelligence Division.
Martin said most of the hate crimes documented by HPD involve individuals, not groups, and run the gamut of motivations.
"Racial, religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, things of that nature," Martin said.
While a hate crime is a legal distinction, civil rights organizations report an uptick in the number of "hate incidents" over the last two years.
"Particularly on college campuses and in schools," said Dayan Gross, the Anti-Defamation League's Southwest Regional Director.
Gross said these incidents largely involve acts of bullying and propaganda in the form of flyers suddenly appearing on college campuses. Gross said the "hate incidents" seen in our area are no different from the types of incidents seen in other parts of the United States. Gross said a coarser national dialogue on a range of subjects is partially fueling the increase.
"That has no doubt created an atmosphere of permissiveness," Gross said.
The ADL works to educate institutions on how to effectively deal with so-called "hate speech," as well as working with police on how to spot signs of bias in crimes.
"There are some people who don't understand how hate deeply hate hurts," said the ADL's Dena Marks. "If someone just steals your purse or something like that, you can do something about that, but you can't change the color of your skin. So it affects people deeply."
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization based in Alabama, tracks organizations it considers "hate groups" nationwide. The SPLC publishes an annual "hate map" showing where it believes these organizations have active chapters or members.
The most recent "hate map" shows 66 hate groups in Texas, with more than a dozen in the greater Houston area. Some groups and their members strongly disagree with the "hate" label, or being lumped in with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
"They try to use the hate group label to shut you up," said Houston attorney Jared Woodfill, who is a member of the Conservative Republicans of Texas.
CRT opposes gay marriage, abortion and, in 2015, helped defeat Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance. His organization is labeled a hate group by the SPLC, but Woodfill said his beliefs do not equal hate.
"We should be standing up and having a vigorous, spirited debate over what we believe, and there's nothing wrong with that," Woodfill said.
Woodfill accused the SPLC of having a "liberal agenda" and trying to silence those who disagree with its politics and beliefs.
"That organization should be ashamed of itself for engaging in such tactics," Woodfill said.
Free speech is an argument we heard from another organization on the SPLC's map. The SPLC states the Yahushua Dual Seed Christian Identity Ministry as being headquartered in Livingston.
A website for the ministry preaches the "white race" is the "chosen race" and "race-mixing is an abomination."
An address listed in online records for the ministry turned out to be a PO box and a phone number listed for the ministry was disconnected.
KPRC was able to find the man listed as a pastor on the ministry's website living in a house on the outskirts of town. He declined to speak with KPRC on camera.
Pastor Bill Patterson told KPRC there is no "church," only the website.
"We don't hate anybody. We're not out protesting anybody. This is what we believe and the Constitution gives us the right to say that," Paterson said. "This is our interpretation of the scripture. If people don't like what they see on the website, they don't have to read it."
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project for the SPLC, said groups aren't listed on the map because of belief.
"We only list groups if they demonize populations," Beirich said.
The SPLC's map also listed the League of the South as having a chapter in the San Jacinto County town of Point Blank. The League is based in Alabama and the SPLC labels the group as "neo-Confederate."
The league's president wrote a piece on the organization's website titled, 'A Note To My Critics,' where he states, "we are firmly entrenched in the old-fashioned Christian beliefs of our ancestors and we stand for the survival, well-being, and independence of the Southern people, mainly the white, Anglo-Celtic folk of Dixie."
The league's website also lists a chapter in Texas.
However, no one KPRC spoke with in Point Blank had ever heard of the league as having a chapter in the town.
"It's a big shock to me to hear about anything like that," Roderick Parks said. "I have been living here over 17 years and I hadn't seen it."
The town's mayor and the sheriff said they have never heard of the league conducting any activities in the area.
KPRC left messages via phone and email for the league's president, but did not receive a response. KPRC also left a message via Facebook for a league member, who the SPLC believes lives in the Point Blank area, but also did not receive a response.
KPRC also tried contacting other groups on the map, such as the New Black Panther Party For Self Defense, Israel United in Christ and the Great Millstone. The SPLC lists these groups as "Black Nationalist" and accuses the organizations of being anti-Semitic and anti-white. KPRC did not receive any responses.
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