December 2, 2014

ST. LOUIS: Bosnian Community Sees Hammer Murder As Hate Crime.

Insistence by St. Louis officials that the beating death of a Bosnian man was not a hate crime is being met with skepticism and anger, according to leaders of the city’s 70,000-strong Bosnian community, and the victim’s brother is calling on authorities to “investigate every possible motive.”

Zemir Begic, a 32-year-old man who emigrated from war-torn Bosnia almost two decades ago in search of a better life, was bludgeoned to death Sunday, allegedly by a group of hammer-wielding teenagers, one of whom has been charged as an adult. Begic was driving with his fiancee, Arijana Mujkanovic, and a male passenger at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday in St. Louis when five teenagers began pounding his vehicle with a hammer, according to police. When Begic confronted them, he was struck in the mouth, face, head and body with hammers and died at a nearby hospital. . . .

The St. Louis Police Department is now working in conjunction with the city prosecutor to determine a motive. Authorities told there is no evidence at this time suggesting the murder was racially motivated.

But a string of previous crimes involving poor minorities and Bosnians in a tough area on the southwest side of the city has many in the Bosnian community questioning whether Begic’s death was racially motivated.

“Bosnians right now have an impression that this was a hate crime,” said Bosnian Chamber of Commerce president Sadik Kukic, who met Monday with the city’s mayor and police chief to discuss the murder. . . .

According to a criminal complaint released Tuesday, Begic and his fiancee were walking to their car when they heard a group, including at least of the defendants, yelling. As Begic drove away, one of the teenagers, “jumped on the back of his car and began hitting it,” the complaint said. Unsure of what was happening, Begic stepped out of his vehicle and was approached by the individuals, one of whom “taunted” him and “challenged him to a fight,” according to the document. Begic was then allegedly assaulted by four men and struck with a hammer and fell to the ground. Three others continue to beat him before the group fled on foot, police said.

Robert Joseph Mitchell, 17, has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in early morning attack. Two others, ages 15 and 16, are in custody, and a fourth suspect remains at large, according to police.

Kukic said hundreds of protesters rallied the past two nights in the Little Bosnia neighborhood in response to Begic’s killing, with many chanting “Bosnian lives matter” — an echo of the “Black lives matter” chant heard in Ferguson after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer.

They’re immigrants, so they don’t understand that only some people can march like that.

Plus, this sad statement: “We came to America thinking it was going to be a better life. Our family and friends were being killed over there.”

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