The family of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes regrets calling her tragic murder a hate crime, a claim which led to a white male being falsely accused of the attack.
Young Barnes was killed in a drive-by shooting on the morning of December 30, 2018. Her mother was driving her and her four sisters in Houston, Texas, when a man opened fire on their vehicle. In the confusion, Laporsha Washington, Barnes’ mother, saw a white man in a red truck speeding away, and believed he was the shooter.
The shooting became a viral news story, and suddenly Washington’s description of a white male suspect became a “hate crime,” according to KPRC2 in Houston.
“Buffin said once word about the shooting became news, it went viral. From there, activists swarmed her family -- listening to Washington and her daughters’ description of a white gunman. They told them the shooting likely was a hate crime,” KPRC2 reported.
Activist Shaun King amplified the sketch of the man and emphasized that it was a “hate crime.” King then started asking about a man who had been arrested for purse snatching after Barnes’ murder, strongly implying this man may be connected to the case. This led to the identified man and his family receiving death threats.
A week after Barnes’ murder, two black men were arrested for the crime.
Now Barnes’ family regrets the role they played in misidentifying an innocent man.
“We apologize. We apologize,” Mary Buffin, Barnes’ great aunt, told KPRC2. “The thing that’s bothering me is that someone was falsely accused.”
After Barnes was shot and her mother was at the hospital, Buffin said the idea that this was a hate crime “wasn’t crossing her mind.” Then the activists swarmed, suggesting it was a hate crime.
"We asked that they would hold off on that,” Buffin said.
Eric Black, 20, and Larry Woodruffe, 24, were arrested for Barnes’ murder. Both are African American men. Police believe the white man in the red truck sped off just after the shooting to protect himself.
Law enforcement officers also believe the two men mistook the car Barnes and her family was in for another vehicle belonging to rival gang members when they opened fire.
Even though a man was falsely accused of a horrific and racist crime, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez didn’t seem concerned, suggesting it had launched an “important discussion” on racism.
"This death has sparked a lot of discussion on many different levels," the sheriff said at a press conference earlier this month. "We know that there is an important discussion that does need to take place about race, about the real fear and concerns that hate crimes are in an uptick across this county. We also need to talk about gun violence."
This is a common defense when a claim of racism or sexism turns out to be bogus. Activists have been using some iteration of the “important discussion” line for years. It is especially prevalent on college campuses after a hate-crime hoax has been perpetrated.