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Dem. Rep. Denies Responsibility for Mistakenly Labeling Girl’s Murder ‘Hate Crime’

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee attends a roundtable discussion on unaccompanied minor shelters in Brownsville, Texas, June 18, 2018. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) refused to take responsibility Sunday for labeling the murder of a seven-year-old African-American girl a “hate crime” before sufficient evidence materialized to support the claim.

Jackson Lee, who encouraged the public to treat Jazmine Barnes’s murder as a hate crime during a rally days after her death, claimed Sunday that her earlier statements, made before the police arrested and charged an African-American man with the murder, were not irresponsible.

While addressing a crowd of hundreds gathered near the Houston, Texas street where Barnes was shot and killed on December 30, Jackson Lee urged her audience to call the murder a hate crime, citing eyewitness accounts that suggested a white man was responsible.

“Do not be afraid to call this what it seems to be — a hate crime,” Jackson Lee said.

On Sunday, Houston Police arrested and charged Eric Black, a 20-year-old African-American man, with the killing. Asked at a news conference Sunday afternoon whether her initial characterization of the murder as a hate crime was irresponsible, Jackson Lee responded, “absolutely not.”

“[Houston residents] listened to the process of law and order, and assisted the sheriff in their efforts,” Lee said. “That should be the story.”

Jackson Lee’s initial assessment of the Barnes’s murder relied on a police sketch made from the eyewitness account of Barnes’s 15-year-old sister, who was in the car with her when she was shot and killed. Authorities attributed the error to “mistaken identity,” adding that the white man depicted in the sketch was likely nearby when the shooting took place.

“It went down very quickly when the gunfire erupted,” Harris County sheriff Ed Gonzalez said during the Sunday news conference. “You’re talking about small children, they witnessed something very traumatic, and it’s very likely the last thing they did see was indeed that red truck — and the driver in that red truck — and that’s what they remember last.”

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