As It Happens

Georgia mom describes 'chaotic' scene at kids' party crashed by gun-toting mob with Confederate flags

A Georgia mom tells As It Happens what it's like when an angry mob rolls up at a children's birthday party with shotguns and Confederate flags, hurling threats and slurs.
Hyesha Bryant spoke to As It Happens about the scene that unfolded when 15 people crashed a children's party and hurled threats and racial slurs, and the effect it's had on her family. (Henry P. Taylor/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Associated Press)

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A Georgia mother says she felt a wave of relief when a judge handed down a prison sentence on Tuesday to a couple who crashed a children's birthday party with a gun-toting, Confederate flag-wielding mob and hurled threats and racist slurs at the kids.

"It was emotional," ​Hyesha Bryant, who attended the party in July 2015 with her three children, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "And at the same time it was a sense of relief, it was a bit of peace and I'm just thankful that this is finally over."

I have to explain to my kids about the  N-word,  because that's a word that I don't use ... and I have to explain to them about hate.- ​ Hyesha  Bryant

Jose Ismael Torres, 26, and Kayla Rae Norton, 25, were two of 15 white people who rolled up to a black children's birthday barbecue in Douglasville, Ga. They were in a convoy of trucks decorated with Confederate flags.

Members of the group, who called themselves "Respect the Flag," wielded weapons and made racial slurs and threats — some of them aimed at the children. 

Norton was sentenced to six years for violating Georgia's street gang act and making terroristic threats. Torres got 13 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, terroristic threats and violating the street gang act.

For Bryant, the sentencing marked the end of a dark chapter for her family — one that forced them to live in fear and have difficult conversations about the harsh realities of racism. 

"I have to explain to my kids about the N-word, because that's a word that I don't use. I had to explain to them why Mommy doesn't use it and why, you know, they were using it. And I have to explain to them about hate," Bryant said.

'It was a big day'

She still remembers the party vividly. A few different kids had birthdays and they were celebrating with a big barbecue, complete with a bouncy castle, a DJ and a snowball machine. She was there with her 10-year-old boy, seven-year-old girl and newborn baby. 

"We had a lot of stuff going on that day," she said. "It was a big day."

Kayla Norton yells 'I love you guys!' to the crowd that gathered to support her at her sentencing at the Douglas County Courthouse in Douglasville, Ga., on Monday. (Henry P. Taylor/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Associated Press)

Everyone was having a good time until a convoy of pickup trucks drove past decked out in Confederate flags.

This was less than a month after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at a historic black church in South Carolina. Roof brandished Confederate flags in several photographs that came to light soon after his arrest, sparking a national debate about the flag. 

Bryant said the trucks passed by a few times "just to show us that they were there." 

I was afraid to leave my house. I was afraid to go to work the next day, but I had to get up and go to work.-  Hyesha  Bryant

"When they actually pulled up, that's when things were very chaotic. We had women, children, everybody. At first, we was just like, 'What's going on?'" she said. "Then out the blue, weapons were drawn, so it was like, 'Get the kids in the house.' It was a crazy situation."

Police showed up, but didn't arrest anyone at the scene, she said.

Debate about the Confederate flag has heated up since Dylann Roof's racially motivated mass murder at a South Carolina church in 2015. (Dave Martin/Associated Press)

"I was afraid to leave my house. I was afraid to go to work the next day, but I had to get up and go to work. I was afraid to let my kids go outside and play, because nobody went to jail. I did not know where these people were," Bryant said. "I didn't know if I was followed. I didn't know if my husband was safe. I didn't know anything."

Forgiveness 

After the incident, Respect the Flag members argued they were driving by innocently when the partygoers initiated the conflict. 

But in his ruling, Superior Court Judge William McClain said the group's "actions were motivated by racial hatred" and said Torres and Norton are permanently banished from Douglas County once they are released from prison.

They were among four people in the group charged with felonies. The other two pleaded guilty and are serving shorter prison sentences.

Superior Court Judge William McClain said Jose Torres and Kayla Norton are barred from Douglas County once they've served their sentences. (Henry P. Taylor/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

As for Bryant, she testified in court that she forgives them all. 

"That's a question that everybody is asking me, how can I forgive when they were so full of hate?" she said.

"Life is too short to be full of hatred and anger. I'm a mother. How can I instil in my children values of love and respect if I am full of hate and anger? How can I sit up here and pray every night to God and say that I am saved if I am full of hate and anger? You can't do it. You can't."

With files from The Associated Press

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