Police arrested a suspect today in the racially charged beating of a white man who was left in critical condition after being attacked on his porch by what witnesses said was a group of about 20 African Americans, one of whom reportedly said, “Now that’s justice for Trayvon.”
The suspect, Terry Rawls, 44, has a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for assault, burglary, theft and firing a weapon into a building or vehicle, according to the Mobile Press-Register. Police said more arrests are possible.
Local officials appear to be attempting to tamp down speculation that the attack on Matthew Owens was some form of retaliation for the killing of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teen who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., in February.
Chad Tucker, a spokesman for the Mobile district attorney, said that Owens and Rawls have a history of conflict dating to the summer of 2009. “That’s an important fact that needs to get out to the public,” Tucker said. “This was not some random event that came out of nowhere.”
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones said Tuesday that the assault was not a hate crime and that the alleged statement about the Trayvon Martin case by one of the attackers has been “blown out of proportion.” He cautioned people about jumping to conclusions in the case, in which new details are emerging.
Owens’ condition, meanwhile, has been upgraded from critical to serious.
Witnesses say about 20 people attacked Owens last Saturday night after an argument between Owens and some kids who were playing basketball nearby.
According to WPMI, neighbors said Owens confronted the kids as they chased a loose basketball onto his lawn. One of the kids said Owens started spewing racial slurs and pulled out two knives. The kids ran away, but angry adults returned.
Neighbors of Owens say it’s not the first time they’ve heard him make racist statements. Lemicka Whisenhunt told WPMI that Owens has said he was going “to lynch all the black kids,” that he “hates black n—ers,” and that he hates that black people moved onto his street. Whisenhunt says that police are often called to the house where Owens stays.