By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
In the early hours of last Thursday, a juvenile lost his life — reportedly because another man objected to his taste in music.
After leaving his job at a local eatery late Wednesday, 17-year-old Elija Al-Amin entered the Circle K at 67th and Peoria avenues around 1:42 a.m. on Thursday morning, based on security camera footage.
Just 23 minutes later, the fresh-faced Glendale teenager lay dead at a nearby hospital after suffering a knife attack at the hands of Michael Paul Adams, a homeless man released from prison only two days prior.
What was his reason for killing the teen?
Mr. Adams said rap music set him off, according to a police report.
“Adams stated the RAP music (not the victim) made him feel threatened and Adams felt he needed to be ‘Proactive rather than reactive’ and protect himself and the community from the victim,” the report states.
Because the victim played rap music in his car outside the convenience store, Mr. Adams entered the store and approached the victim unaware from behind before stabbing him in the back and slitting his throat with a pocketknife, the attacker admitted in his post-arrest interview.
While Mr. Adams faces first degree murder charges in Arizona, the incident drew national media attention and some are calling for hate crime charges against the admitted perpetrator.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker tweeted Monday: “Another one of our children has been murdered in a heinous and unprovoked way — the DOJ must investigate this hate crime immediately. RIP Elijah. #JusticeForElijah”
Since Arizona has no hate crime statute, such charges would need to come from federal officials.
But Mr. Adams’ stated motive for the killing could still affect his sentencing, explained Amanda Steele, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
“… the defendant has been charged with First Degree Murder. At this time his next court date is scheduled for 7/15/19. It is important to note that there is no criminal charge in Arizona of ‘hate crime’. It is however an enhancement which means it is a factor at sentencing,” Ms. Steele stated by email.
Whether and how a federal agency would take an interest in this case remains unclear, she added.
“I cannot offer you any information on the decision-making processes involving the FBI or the Department of Justice as our office is not involved,” Ms. Steele stated.
The county attorney’s office issued a press release late yesterday, further clarifying their position and its legal underpinning.
“It is important to note that Arizona Revised Statutes do not include a criminal charge for hate crimes. Instead, ARS 13-701 provides an option for enhanced sentencing when sufficient evidence exists that a defendant committed a felony crime while motivated by either, bias towards the victim’s identity or the defendant’s perception of a victim’s identity in a group listed in ARS 41-1750 (3). Additionally, a defendant charged with First Degree Murder faces a sentence of either Natural Life in Prison or Death,” according to the release.
This isn’t the first incidence of a local crime viewed by some as hate crime.
In late 2016, the former Daily News-Sun (now Daily Independent) reported on acts of vandalism against Temple Beth Shalom, a Jewish temple in Sun City.
On Dec. 24, the first night of night of Hanukkah, vandals reportedly damaged the temple’s menorah, a Holocaust memorial and a basketball court.
The congregation’s leader, Rabbi Shelly Moss, at the time said the vandalism was a clear hate crime.
“It’s a hate crime,” Rabbi Moss said. “Sun City doesn’t have hate crime often. It’s really a shock. We have to defend ourselves and go out to the community for their support. There are a lot more good people than bad people but we have to respond.”
He said the incident reflects hate crimes occurring all around the country and recent analysis of federal crime data seems to back up the rabbi’s claim.
SafeHome.org yesterday released its study entitled “The Rise of Hate Crimes in America,” based on analysis of FBI data compiled between 2013 and 2017, which the say reveals a 22% rise in hate crimes in the U.S. with 8,500 cases reported to the police.
The state saw a 55% increase over the same period, ranking Arizona 14th worst nationally, while Phoenix ranked among the top five worst cities in the nation for hate crimes.
According to the report, racial animosity inspired most hate crimes at 60% of those reported, followed by religious animosity at 21% and sexual orientation at 16%.
Other national findings in the report include:
- 51% of offenders were Caucasian.
- 83% were 18 and older.
- African Americans accounted for 50% of those targeted for race.
- Jews were the most targeted religious group at 58% with Muslims targeted in 19% of cases.
- Top 5 states for rise in incidence: Wyoming, Georgia, Vermont, Delaware and District of Columbia.
- Top 5 cities for rise in incidence: Eugene, Phoenix, Seattle, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
SafeHome.org concluded that, despite the sharp rise in reports, most hate crimes still go unreported, however.
“Despite a federal mandate to report incidents of hate crimes, the scope and shape of bias-motivated crime across the United States are foggy at best. Many states have failed to pass legislation making bias-motivated crimes a special class of offense, while many law enforcement agencies do not report to federal authorities details on hate crimes reported to police,” the SafeHome.org report concluded.
Citing Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the group estimates nearly 20 million Americans live in jurisdictions, which do not report hate crime stats to the FBI.
Editor’s note: Daily Independent crime reporter Chris Caraveo contributed to this report.