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Stabbing of Palestinian American man near UT Austin will not be prosecuted as a hate crime

Nizar Doar said his son, Zacharia, is recovering after being stabbed on Sunday. At a news conference at City Hall, he and members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, urged police and prosecutors to charge the suspect with a hate crime.
Luz Moreno-Lozano
KUT News
Nizar Doar was among the family members and friends who called for the stabbing of his son, Zacharia, to be investigated as a hate crime.

A Travis County grand jury decided that the stabbing of a Palestinian American man near the UT Austin campus in February should be tried as an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon but not a hate crime.

Bert James Baker, the 36-year-old man charged in the stabbing, could face up to 20 years in prison.

In February, Austin Police recommended the stabbing be prosecuted as a hate crime. A hate crime is defined as someone intentionally selecting a victim because of a bias or prejudice against the person's race, national origin, ancestry or religion. The district attorney's office took the recommendation before a grand jury.

Travis County District Attorney José Garza said the jury heard the evidence and law and decided that Baker's conduct was unlawful but should not be prosecuted as a hate crime.

“We know that many religious communities in Travis County and across the country are deeply concerned about a rise in hate crime reports and that many were hoping for the grand jury to reach a different conclusion in this case,” Garza said in a statement. “Our office takes the hate crime referrals we receive from our law enforcement partners incredibly seriously. We remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute these cases and ensure that those who commit hate crimes in Travis County are held accountable.”

Zacharia Doar, 23, was attacked and stabbed by Baker after attending a rally in support of Palestinian rights and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, his parents said in a February press conference.

According to an arrest affidavit, Doar and his friends said they were near the intersection of Nueces and West 26th streets when Baker was riding by on a bike. The group told police Baker tried to rip a flagpole with a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf reading "Free Palestine" off their truck.

Baker then screamed obscenities at the group, started a fight after he punched Doar in the shoulder, and then stabbed him in the chest, according to court documents.

Doar underwent surgery in Austin before returning home to Dallas.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, along with Doar's family and friends called for hate crime charges in February.

CAIR said it believed the stabbing was part of a rise in hate crimes committed against Muslims, Palestinians and others who support Palestinian human rights. The Anti-Defamation League has reported increased threats against both Jewish and Muslim communities across the U.S. since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent war in Gaza.

Mustafaa Carroll, interim executive director for the CAIR DFW chapter, said the organization wants to know how the jury reached its decision. He said the group believes the incident still meets and has all the elements of a hate crime. CAIR has now called for the Justice Department to file hate crime charges in the case.

"It's baffling," Carroll said. "Based on what we heard, it's hard for me to understand what happened. If that didn't count as a hate crime then what does?"

Baker remains in the Travis County Jail with bail set at $100,000.

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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