Community leaders held a news conference at Oakland City Hall Friday to demand justice for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station on Sunday night.
Minister Keith Muhammad of the Nation of Islam mosque in Oakland said community members “are outraged by the horrific murder of our young sister,” referring to Wilson.
Muhammad said the stabbing of Wilson and Letifah Wilson, her 26-year-old sister, on the platform of the MacArthur station at about 9:36 p.m. on Sunday was “vicious” and he called on Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley to consider filing hate crime allegations against suspect John Lee Cowell, a 27-year-old transient man.
But Muhammad said:
“We don’t have substantial trust in our system of government to prosecute those who have been preying on our community.”
Cowell, who is s white, currently isn’t charged with a hate crime for allegedly killing Wilson, who was black, and attacking her sister.
But O’Malley said after Cowell was arraigned on Wednesday on murder and premeditated attempted murder charges that she has a team of inspectors investigating the case and will be able to add hate crime allegations at a later time if they find evidence to support them.
BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said on Monday that there was no immediate indication that the stabbing was a hate crime but he said that possibility couldn’t be ruled out because the motive for the stabbing is unclear.
Joining Muhammad at the news conference, Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said, “Bigotry is not welcome here” and she believes there was a racial element to the crime.
Gibson McElhaney also said, “I’ve heard from community members that they believe justice is not equal” in the way that black people and white people are treated.
Muhammad said, “Hate crimes are on the rise” and noted that the stabbing occurred the night before white supremacists reportedly were planning to gather at an Oakland bar.
Cowell’s family said in a statement earlier this week that he’s suffered from mental illness most of his life and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
But the Rev. Joseph Simmons of the Greater St. Paul Church in Oakland said Cowell “should not be let off the hook because of mental issues.”
“It’s not that mental when you leave home with a knife.”
Muhammad said Cowell’s attorney should not be allowed to use “the lame excuse that he (Cowell) was hit in the second grade and this was a case of insanity.”
“If that’s the case, then every murderer is insane.”
Although many of Wilson’s family members attended Cowell’s arraignment on Wednesday none of them attended today’s news conference.