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BART stabbings rock Bay Area community, suspect arrested

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Bay Area attacks keep Oakland on edge as some believe that the assault is a hate crime.

The family of Nia Wilson, 18, and Lahtifa Wilson, 26, are still in shock after an unprovoked attack on the sisters at the MacArthur station on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Sunday, resulted in a fatality.

The siblings, along with a third sister, had just come from a family outing. As they were exiting the Oakland stop, a man blindsided them, using a knife to slit their throats in what is described as a “prison-like assault.”

Nia was stabbed twice in the neck then the attacker went for Lahtifa.

“I looked back and he was wiping off his knife and stood at the stairs and just looked. From then on, I was caring for my sister,” said Lahtifa to ABC7 News on Monday outside of her family’s home.

Before fleeing, the man removed his pants and sweatshirt, said law enforcement authorities. The younger sibling died from her wounds.

Lahtifa called her father for help. He came too late. “When I ran up to the platform, and I see my youngest daughter laying under a tarp dead … that’s my baby girl up there,” Ansar Mohammad told reporters.

On Monday evening, police apprehended John Lee Cowell, 27, at another BART stop, the Pleasant Hill station, in Walnut Park just northeast of Oakland.

“In my close to 30 years of police experience, it was probably one of the most vicious attacks that I have seen,” said BART Police Chief, Carlos Rojas, at a news conference following Cowell’s arrest.

Authorities used tips from riders and station footage to identify the attacker. Cowell, a parolee, was released from prison on May 6 for second-degree robbery. He has a history of violence, drug use and homelessness.

Racial Tensions in the Bay

The Wilsons, who are Black, and the assailant, described as a “heavyset white man,” have left the community reeling from a killing that is believed to be racially motivated.

In a statement issued by Oakland Mayor, Libby Schaaf, she addressed the implications of the attack being a hate crime when she wrote, “the fact that his victims were both young African American women stirs deep pain and palpable fear in all of us who acknowledge the reality that our country still suffers from a tragic and deeply racist history.”

Mohammed said that witnesses described the attack as “random,” but racial tensions have long  grown in the city located just across the San Pablo Bay from San Francisco.

“I want justice for my daughter. I want justice for my daughter,” said Mohammed through his tears. “I work at Highland Hospital. I see this every single day, I never imagined myself going through nothing like this.”

Historically known to house a visible African American enclave, Oakland’s demographics rapidly changed with the onset of gentrification. Declining from 35 percent in 2000 to 16 percent today, most Black residents have been pushed out. However, Oakland is still considered a Black cultural hub.

In May, a white woman called the cops on a group of Black people barbecuing at Lake Merritt. Video footage of the confrontation showed the woman telling police officers that she was physically threatened. The video went viral. In response, the local community carried  out mass barbecues for several weekends. The next month, another video emerged showing a white jogger throwing the possessions of a vagrant Black man into the same lake. The friction between an encroaching, largely white upper class and a rapidly displaced Black working class heightens the incident.

Since Wilson’s death, protests have taken place in several cities with the Oakland community rallying around the family.

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