On Monday, a couple who waved Confederate flags, yelled racial slurs and pointed a gun at a group of children gathered for an 8-year-old's birthday party were sentenced to prison by a Georgia judge, CNN reported on Tuesday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the defendants "wept" as their sentences were handed down.
On July 25, 2015, Jose "Joe" Torres and Kayla Norton were part of a group of people who went on a "drunken rampage," riding around in pickup trucks adorned with Confederate battle flags, the Journal-Constitution reported. And when they came to a home where a group of black party-goers had gathered for a child's birthday party, they yelled racial slurs as they drove by, according to a witness statement cited by CNN. And then, the statement continues, they parked and got out of their trucks — with weapons.
Then they approached the kids' party, where people were grilling hot dogs and burgers and children were playing in a bouncy castle and eating snow cones, according to the Douglas County district attorney's office. Torres was reportedly part of a "smaller group" that threatened to kill people at the party — including the children, CNN reported.
According to a statement posted on the Douglas County district attorney's Facebook page, Torres took out a shotgun from his truck and pointed it at people at the party. Other people in his group were allegedly heard saying "the little ones can get one too."
At this point, according to the statement, people at the party were fleeing and calling 911. But emergency dispatchers were "already inundated with calls about the defendants harassing and threatening people throughout the day," according to the district attorney.
Torres, Norton, and many of the people in their group that day were members of a group called Respect the Flag — a "loosely organized group," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, that was formed in 2015 in response to a nationwide push to remove the Confederate battle flag from public spaces. According to CNN, a total of 15 people belonging to Respect the Flag were indicted.
Hyesha Bryant, one of Norton and Torres' victims, spoke in court on the day of their sentencing, the Journal-Constitution reported, addressing them directly. "I never thought this would be something I'd have to endure in 2017," she said. "As adults and parents, we have to instill in our children the values of right and wrong. That moment you had to choose to leave, you stayed." She went on to say "I forgive all of you. ... I don't have any hate in my heart. Life is too short for that."
Norton herself spoke as well, telling a group of her victims "I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him," CNN reported. "I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I'm so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry."
Judge William McClain sentenced Torres to 20 years, 13 of them to be served in prison. Norton got 15 years, to serve six in prison. Upon their respective releases, both are to be permanently banned from Douglas County.
In delivering their sentences, McClain condemned Norton and Torres as "motivated by racial hatred," the Journal-Constitution reported, and told the defendants directly, "Many good people in Paulding County saw you for what you are. ... Everywhere you went, 911 call centers were flooded with calls."