In at least three cases nationwide, attackers have invoked the name of Trayvon Martin in the beating of white victims, with one alleged attacker saying anger over the case was the motivating factor for the assault.
In the latest incident, Alton L. Hayes, an 18-year-old African American in suburban Chicago, told police that he jumped a white 19-year-old because he was upset about the Sanford, Fla., case, police told the Chicago Tribune.
Hayes and a 15-year-old from Chicago attacked the victim about 1 a.m. April 17 in Oak Park, west of Chicago, police said.
Hayes told police the pair grabbed the man from behind, hit him several times and threatened him with a tree branch, saying, “Empty your pockets, white boy," FOX Chicago reported. The pair then allegedly threw the man to the ground and hit him in the head several more times before taking off. The man called police, who stopped the pair a few blocks away.
On Wednesday, Hayes was charged with a hate crime, as well as with attempted robbery and aggravated battery. He was being held in Cook County jail on $80,000 bail Thursday, according to jail records. The 15-year-old, who is also black, was charged with attempted robbery.
Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old walking through a gated community, was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26. The shooting, and the Police Department’s initial refusal to charge Zimmerman, sparked outrage and protests across the country. A special prosecutor was appointed to the case, and she ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Now the name “Trayvon” is being invoked not only to describe other cases -- in Baltimore, New York and beyond -- in which young people have been injured or killed, but also as a sign of anger during attacks on whites.
On Saturday, a mob of about 20 African Americans allegedly beat a white man on the porch of his Mobile, Ala., home with chairs, pipes, brass knuckles and paint cans. The man’s sister said one of the assailants shouted, “Now that’s justice for Trayvon," WKRG reported.
Despite pleas from the man’s relatives for the incident to be investigated as a hate crime, the attack on Matthew Owens, 40, was investigated as an assault. Investigators insisted that the Martin case had nothing to do with the assault, that the attack arose out of an ongoing dispute between Owens and a neighbor.
On Wednesday, police arrested 44-year-old Terry Rawls for first-degree assault in connection with the attack, WKRG reported.
“I can tell you this without a doubt, 100% certainty, that Trayvon Martin was not the motivating factor in this incident,” Mobile Police Cpl. Chris Levy told WKRG.
Mobile County Dist. Atty. Ashley Rich told WKRG on Wednesday that she was conferring with counterparts at the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI, and that she was leaving it up to federal officials to decide whether the incident merited hate crime charges.
As Owens remained hospitalized this week, conservative talk shows and websites buzzed with news of the attack and supporters started the Facebook page “Justice for Matthew Owens.” Mobile’s mayor, who is African American, tried to clear the air Wednesday and distance the incident from events in Sanford, Fla.
“We don’t have that kind of information that would tell us this stemmed from some hate crime that started somewhere else,” Mayor Samuel Jones told Local15, “or even one that started here that was strictly based on race.”
The Martin case was also mentioned in connection with a third attack on an elderly white Ohio man late last month.
Dallas Watts, 78, told police he was walking home in Toledo on March 31 when he was confronted by six youths, white and black, ages 11 to 17, one of whom directed the group to “take him down,” FoxToledo.com reported.
Watts said he pleaded, “Why me? Remember Trayvon,” in a “peaceful way.” He told reporters that only seemed to anger the youths.
"[Get] that white [man]. This is for Trayvon. ... Trayvon lives, white [man]. Kill that white [man],” the boys are quoted as saying in a police report cited by the Toledo Blade.
Three of the six youths have since been charged in connection with the attack, but police did not find evidence to support hate crime charges, FoxToledo.com reported.