Local community members sat frustrated through a meeting this week with the Northern District of Texas Department of Justice Community Relations Service and a representative of the FBI Dallas field office who maintains hate crime statistics.
Those attending had come to the meeting hoping to learn what the two federal agencies could do to assist local police in investigating the recent spate of attacks against gay men in Oak Lawn. But no one had any solutions to offer.
Reatta Forte described the DoJ’s Community Relations Service as “America’s peacemakers, specializing in de-escalation.” She explained, “We enhance communities’ efforts to resolve differences or tensions.”
Forte said her office conducts community forums, does educational work and brings groups together to work out differences. But at the meeting held at Cathedral of Hope on Nov. 30, she was speaking to a group of about 50 LGBT people who wanted a response to the attacks in the community that have escalated through this year. But her audience was disappointed to learn the CRS had no response ready.
Forte’s presentation concentrated on prosecution and a law that allows hate crimes to be prosecuted in federal courts rather than state courts. She explained that decisions decide whether to transfer a case to federal court based on possible penalties and whether the statute of limitations has expired at either the state or federal level.
But prosecution comes only after a suspect is in custody. The suspects in the Oak Lawn attacks remain at large. And therein lies the rub.
Richard Dupont was one of those who left the meeting angrier than he was when he arrived.
“Nothing got accomplished,” Dupont said, noting that Dallas police were “noticeably absent” from the meeting. He said he sees empty police cars parked in the area, but no police on patrol.
Dupont said he lives in Oak Lawn because he likes being in a walkable neighborhood: If he goes to Cedar Springs for a drink, he likes being able to walk home.
“Now I can’t do that,” he said. “I want solutions about what’s going on in my neighborhood.”
Dupont said Department of Justice representatives at the meeting offered no solutions to the recent crime spree.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Miller said she couldn’t comment on any ongoing investigations, but she didn’t address what tools her office has on hand to help Dallas police, either.
Several attendees expressed concern that recent crimes in Oak Lawn would not be reported to the FBI as hate crimes because they might not be able to be prosecuted as hate crimes. FBI representative Randall Ryan said anyone can report crimes to the FBI.
Suspected hate crimes can be reported directly to the Dallas field office at 972-559-5000. Ryan said to leave contact information so someone from his office can call back and investigate.
One person questioned how a report about an attack on an undocumented immigrant would be handled.
“We’re not ICE,” Randall replied.
Miller agreed that deportation wouldn’t be a goal of her office, but couldn’t guarantee the person reporting an attack would not be deported. A law that was meant to extend a visa for a tourist who was a crime victim so that person could remain in the U.S. for a trial, is worded broadly enough that it would protect the undocumented crime victim and extend legal status through a trial.
Brite Divinity School was a sponsor of the meeting, and Dean Joretta Marshall pointed to religion as a root cause of the attacks on the LGBT community.
“Religion is being used by too many people to spread hate and we can’t tolerate that,” she said, adding that the community must continue to be vigilant “until every pastor in every church realizes we all have a place at God’s table.”
But authorities aren’t labeling most of the recent attacks in Oak Lawn as hate crimes, and Miller explained why many crimes are not prosecuted as hate crimes.
In most cases, Miller said, prosecutors have to prove, usually beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone committed the crime. When hate crime enhancements are added on state prosecutions or when someone is charged with committing a hate crime under the federal statute, prosecutors have to prove not only that the defendant committed the crime, but also their motive in committing the crime. That can be tricky.
In the case of 12 reported hate crimes in Dallas, only the first victim remembers hearing his assailants call him “fag” as they were beating him with a baseball bat. Other victims were knocked unconscious early in the attacks or have blocked out at least parts of the incidents.
Attack victim Michael Dominguez doesn’t remember much of what happened after his skull was cracked by a bat in a blow that came from behind. What he does know was he was attacked on Cedar Springs Road, somewhere between S4 and the end of that block. The first 911 call made on his behalf came from Havana, across the street.
No one would randomly target someone on Cedar Springs Road without knowing he was targeting a gay person,
Dominguez argued. But investigators haven’t classified the assault on Dominguez as a hate crime because he doesn’t remember if his attacker used derogatory words. It’s being referred to as a robbery — even though his attackers took nothing from him — or as an aggravated assault.
District Attorney Susan Hawk’s LGBT liaison Craig McNeil said the DA’s office conducts its own investigation before taking a case to trial. And they base their decision on whether to prosecute a case as a hate crime based on more than just the police classification of the incident.
“If we get information something is a hate crime, we can go for a penalty enhancement,” McNeil said.
Rafael McDonnell, Resource Center communications and advocacy manager, was the victim of a crime in New Orleans three years ago and said police in that city were unresponsive.
When attacks began in Oak Lawn, McDonnell said, he wasn’t going to allow the same thing to happen here.
“We’re pretty wired right now,” McDonnell said. “If you don’t want to tell the police, tell one of us.”
Dominguez offered his assistance to current victims and future attack victims. He also had a warning for anyone at the forum that was there just to placate the community.
“Shit’s going to get done,” Dominguez said. “We have lots of activists in this community.”
After the meeting, Stonewall Democrats President Jay Narey said he would have liked local police and business owners to have participated in the forum. He called the meeting “another community relations appearance,” and would have preferred to hear about how the FBI and Department of Justice could collaborate with local law enforcement, even if they couldn’t comment on specifics of current cases.
In addition to increased lighting on dark side streets, Narey said he wants to see follow-through with the installation of the additional cameras and “elevated police presence until some arrests have been made.”
Meanwhile, activists like Michael Phelps promised to continue private patrols through the neighborhood.
“For me it starts with the police getting out of their damn cars and actually talking to people,” Phelps said.