St. Louis police allege hate crime in latest attack on Bosnian resident



Dec. 1: Bosnians march along Gravois Road to protest the murder of Zemir Begic, a Bosnian man, in St. Louis. (AP)

The St. Louis police chief has asked for the FBI’s help investigating what he believes was a hate crime attack against a woman in the same Bosnian neighborhood where a man was beaten to death days earlier by hammer-wielding teens, and where assaults have spiked dramatically in recent months.

The 26-year-old Bosnian-American woman told police she was stopped in her car by three African-American teens early Friday morning in the city’s Bevo Mill section, where tens of thousands of Bosnians settled following the civil war in the former Yugoslavia 20 years ago. The incident occurred just blocks from where Zemir Begic, a 32-year-old Bosnian-American, was beaten to death by teenagers with hammers a week earlier.

One of the assailants flashed a gun and ordered the woman out of her vehicle and another hit the woman’s windshield with what police believe was a crowbar, authorities said.

“You’re Bosnian,” one of the suspects allegedly said. “I should just kill you now.”

The woman, who was pulled from the car and then beaten, was found unconscious by a passerby, police said. The alleged statement prompted St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson to present the case to the FBI.

“We have been stopped at intersections in Bevo and our car attacked by teens who pound on the car — laughing at us.”- Resident of St. Louis’ Bosnian enclave

“As of now, officers are investigating this incident as a bias crime based on the victim’s account of the incident,” the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in an email Monday. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Authorities said they don’t believe the attacks on Begic and the woman are related, but acknowledged a disturbing rise in violent crime in the area in recent months. Although police have not made a connection, the crime spike coincides with the rioting that followed the August police shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson, Mo.

Bevo Mill residents, whose neighborhood has seen a cumulative 24-percent rise in aggravated assaults over the last three months, say assaults and threats by packs of teenagers against Bosnians have become the norm. One who spoke to on condition of anonymity due to safety reasons claims he and his family experienced a similar attack and said there is a disturbing pattern of violence against white residents in the area.

“It is common for African-American teens to walk in the middle of the street and block in cars at intersections,” said the man, who has lived in the neighborhood for half a decade. “We have been stopped at intersections in Bevo and our car attacked by teens who pound on the car — laughing at us.”

“They only do this to white individuals, who they have learned will generally not respond. There is a pattern here and it is racially motivated,” he alleged. “Many of us are arming ourselves in order to avoid becoming the next victim to be beaten to death in the streets.”

“Overall the whole neighborhood is on alert,” Alderman Carol Howard told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There’s been an uptick in crime since August. I really do believe it has set off a sense of lawlessness.”

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, at the urging of Dotson, is working on a plan to put 160 additional officers on the street in response to the recent increase in crime, Slay’s office said Monday.

Aggravated assault, for example, was up 19.6 percent in the Bevo Mill neighborhood in September when compared to September 2013, according to crime statistics posted on the St. Louis Police Department website. In October 2014, aggravated assault was up by 24.1 percent and by 29 percent in November when compared to the same month in 2013.