An Argument in Houston Turned Deadly. Was It a Hate Crime or ‘Road Rage?’

“They really didn’t even give it the light of day. They were saying, ‘It’s not a hate crime, this is a road rage incident.'”  

By Hady MawajdehDecember 29, 2015 9:30 am, ,

“Go Back to Islam” is a piece about loss, hate speech and the controversial “stand your ground” laws that have sparked headlines across the nation and right here in Texas.

The piece, written by reporter Leah Caldwell for the Texas Observer, will be on shelves in January. She tells the Standard the story behind the title.

The story starts back in June on a Houston street. Two men pulled up at a four-way stop at the same time. Then an altercation took place.

“They both roll down their windows. Words are exchanged,” Caldwell says. The wife of Ziad Abu Naim, Lisa Aimone, was in the car when she heard the other driver, Robert Klimek, yell at Abu Naim. “She says that the man driving in the other car… he yelled out, ‘Go back to Islam.’”

At that point, Abu Naim stepped out of his car and was shot in the face by Klimek. The police report states that Abu Naim punched Klimek twice in the face, but that’s up for debate. The lawyer for Abu Naim’s estate says there’s no evidence of hit marks on Klimek’s face in his mugshot. Aimone was the only witness.

“She tried to pursue the avenue of a hate crime with this, and the District Attorney of Harris County, Devon Anderson, [decided] not to pursue that avenue,” Caldwell says. “They really didn’t even give it the light of day, they were saying. It’s not a hate crime, this is a road rage incident.”

Klimek’s defense cited the Stand Your Ground law, which was expanded in 2007 to include vehicles. It says a person has no duty to retreat if they’re in their vehicle.

Since 1973, Texas law stated there was a duty to retreat, if a person felt there was a threat to their life. But the Castle doctrine passed in 1995 said a person doesn’t have any duty to retreat, as long as they‘re in their home.

But for this particular case there’s an added element of Klimek’s reference to Islam. Aimone, at the time, did not know Klimek’s background, and the prosecutors did not indicate to her that he had a history of racism.

Caldwell found a series of posts online, showing a history of hatred and violent speech from Robert Klimek’s online history.

“I found pretty much a decade worth of racist, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim comments on these car enthusiasts forums,” she says. “He even talks about how he’s brandished his weapon on the road before. A group of ‘Mexicans’ approached him in his BMW and he basically had a showdown with them and he was lucky he didn’t have to shoot them. He talks about how he carries his gun in his car at all times because of an impending race war.”

But Caldwell says when she spoke with Assistant District Attorney Kelli Johnson, the DA described it as a road rage case.

“She stated that it was a very tragic incident, but ultimately, it was a justifiable homicide,” Caldwell says. “The grand jury agreed with that. What I was asking was ‘Did the prosecutors present all this information?’ A more complete portrait of Klimek.”

Since all the evidence presented to grand juries is secretive, Caldwell says we don’t exactly know what they know. We don’t know if they had this in consideration, or if they had known about Klimek’s anti-Arab, anti-Muslim views.

We don’t know, she says, “if they would have seen it as something besides a Stand Your Ground case, if they would have seen it as an ethnically or racially motivated crime.”