CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (FinalCall.com) – George and Samimah Aziz-Hodge woke up on the morning of July 14 to the frightening sight of an image of a cross burned on the lawn in front of their Country Club Estates home. The couple is the only Black family in the neighborhood and have lived in the area a little less than one year.
Police are trying to determine what substance or method was used to burn the life-sized image of a cross into the grass. Samples were taken for further examination, results are still pending.
“From our point of view, this is not only a hate crime, but an act of domestic terrorism. The image of a burnt cross in front of our home conjures feelings of distrust, confusion and, quite honestly, fear–fear for our young children and concern about our safety. We are law abiding, productive members of this community and cannot imagine what reason anyone would have for doing such a horrible thing,” said Mr. Hodge, director of Corpus Christi’s Weed & Seed Office, an agency funded by the Department of Justice to support programs and services for at-risk youth in the area.
He also serves as Chaplin for 100 Black Men of Corpus Christi, is active in the local chapter of the NAACP and sits on a number of boards such as the Police Training and Advisory Board; Goodwill; Advance Housing Corp.; and the National Crime Prevention Council.
Ms. Hodge owns a travel and event management company and sponsors programs that promote and encourage cultural diversity in education and the arts. When the cross-burning incident occurred, she was organizing a program to bring a Brazilian Dance Company to the city.
“I will continue to promote efforts to expose others to the diverse cultures of the world. It is this kind of exposure which helps to foster respect and appreciation for ethnic and cultural differences,” she said.
The Hodges met with field agents from the FBI who came to view the crime scene and discuss possible motives for a cross burning. The agents said that they would allow the police to “flush out” the details of the investigation, and then they would review the findings to determine if the evidence qualifies the incident as a hate crime under federal statutes.
Recently, Mr. Hodge met with Police Chief Pete Alvarez to request a full investigation by the police department after his name was written on a blackboard in the Officers Briefing room with derogatory remarks. Police officers met earlier in the briefing room to discuss a case involving Charles Tryon, a Black police officer on suspension pending an investigation for assault charges.
Chief Alvarez reported in a news interview that he is treating the Hodge case as a misdemeanor property damage incident. It was also reported that the two police officers involved in the briefing room incident were placed on a three-day suspension without appeal.
The Hodges question the recent headline in a local paper, “FBI: No apparent hate crime,” challenging how this conclusion can be reached so quickly without a thorough examination of the facts.
“We are calling on the FBI, sheriff and police departments to launch a full investigation into the matter. We are appalled at the chief’s attempt to marginalize the incident by labeling it a property damage case. We believe that this is more than a mere property damage issue and are asking that the authorities find out who did this, for what reason, and how the crime was perpetrated.”
The Hodges expressed how moved they have been by the show of support and encouragement from neighbors and the community at large. Local organizations have offered to reseed their lawn.
They believe the incident is meant to intimidate and threaten them. They are seeking consultation from the national offices of the Department of Justice, NAACP, 100 Black Men and other civil rights organizations.