Updated: Monday, 22 Feb 2010, 5:17 PM CST
Published : Monday, 22 Feb 2010, 3:30 PM CST
AUSTIN (KXAN) - The victims of a downtown attack on Saturday say their attackers yelled slurs at them about their sexuality - leading them to believe that their assault should be classified as a hate crime.
The decision will be up to the Travis County District Attorney's office, which can call upon either state or federal laws defining hate crimes as attacks based on prejudice against a particular group of people.
The two men were beaten after being followed from a popular gay bar in Downtown Austin early Sunday morning. They said the four men who attacked them did not steal anything but jumped them from behind, yelling slurs about their sexuality.
The two men leaving the bar said wearing jerseys for their gay softball team may have made them a target that morning.
The suspects are still on the loose.
In late October 2009, President Obama signed a law that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. The expanded federal hate crimes law, hailed by supporters as the first major federal gay rights legislation, was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill. However, Austin Police said the Travis County DA’s Office will make the decision.
According to Buddy Meyer, Director of the Trial Bureau with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, there have not been any hate crime convictions so far.
"There have certainly been cases where the feeling was the motivation was based on bias or prejudice," said Meyer. "But you have to have proof."
APD said if they can find the men and prove they beat up the two men because they are gay, the suspects could face a stiffer penalty.
"The DA's office and courts determine whatever kind of crime it's going to be an enhancement,” said Sergeant Keith Bazzle.
Morgan and Emmanuel Winston had just left Oilcan Harry's on Fourth Street at about 2:30 a.m. on Saturday when they said four men followed them three blocks to City Hall and then attacked them.
"Almost got towards the garage and got a punch in the back of my head,” said on victim, Matt Morgan. "I got the other one off of me, and when I looked over, my friend was about 20 feet away just getting pummeled by three guys. (He was) yelling, 'Help!'”
Morgan and Winston called police.
"He told me they really don't have enough patrol men to scour the garage,” said Morgan.
However, APD spokesperson, Bazzle, said police did try to find the suspects.
"In the officers report, it clearly states that he checked several levels of the garage. However, they were unable to locate them,” said Bazzle.
Now the victims are calling for action.
"We can’t wait for somebody to die before we do anything about a hate crime,” said Winston.
The incident will not make Morgan or Winston avoid downtown, but they are calling on the gay community and police department to come together to ensure no one else is hurt.
"We want people to know it's not okay to do this. Also, the fact we're taking a stand about this, we want people to not live their lives in fear,” said Winston.