Hate crime assault in Oak Lawn is first test of how new Dallas police chief, LGBT community will interact
The May 14 brutal hate crime assault on two gay men in Oak Lawn is sparking memories of countless episodes of anti-gay violence that date back to the initial settlement of the district four decades ago by LGBT residents and the businesses they frequented.
It has also renewed concerns about a perceived indifference to anti-gay crime on the part of Dallas police officers after the investigating officers failed to immediately classify the assault and robbery as a hate crime.
The assault was reclassified as a hate crime on Monday, May 17, but the damage was already done for those of us who have lived through the terror and survived.
Even worse, the LGBT community has not yet heard from Dallas’ new chief of police, David Brown, who should be publicly denouncing anti-gay violence and reassuring the LGBT community that Dallas police officers will be diligent in investigating it and attempting to deter it.
There is a very small window of opportunity for a message like that to be sent, and it appears Brown is letting it close on him.
The Dallas Voice submitted a request to Brown for an interview after his hiring in late April, but he has yet to respond to it.
There isn’t room in this issue of the Dallas Voice to recount every incident of anti-gay violence that has occurred in Oak Lawn over the past 40 years, even if that information could be unearthed. Much of it went unreported because of concerns about harassment from Dallas police officers.
There also is a long history of discriminatory acts on the part of the Dallas Police Department — not the least of which was the gargantuan resistance to hiring gay and lesbian police officers — that will never be forgotten.
For me, the most poignant memory of anti-gay violence is what happened to a friend of mine about 25 years ago. Although I haven’t talked to him recently, I know he relived the terrifying experience when he heard about last weekend’s attack.
That’s happened repeatedly over the years, every time he has heard about a new anti-gay assault.
My friend’s decision to walk to the strip for happy hour at one of the clubs seemed logical that weekend afternoon. He reasoned that it would be good exercise, easier than looking for a parking space, ecologically sensible and better than drinking and driving.
As it turned out, he didn’t stay too long and started walking home rather than calling a cab or his partner for a ride home. It didn’t seem like that big of deal because Cedar Springs Road was pretty well lit and highly-traveled, both day and night.
As he walked along the sidewalk, before he got to the bridge that goes over the toll road, he noticed a group of adults — both male and female — and several children walking toward him. He noticed that someone in the group was carrying a baseball bat, but he saw no reason to fear them and cross the street.
After all, it appeared to be a family out walking together in the early evening.
But just as he walked past them, a sharp crack to the back of his head sent him reeling to the pavement. As blood began covering his face, he realized the group was simply continuing their stroll.
They weren’t taking his wallet that was filled with credit cards and cash. And they weren’t tearing his gold watch off his wrist or his rings off his fingers.
It was not a robbery. They just wanted to hurt him — likely because he was gay and they were straight — and possibly also because he was white and they were black.
He barely recalls struggling home and staggering into his townhouse. Fortunately, his partner was there, able to slow the bleeding with a towel and to get him to an emergency room. It’s a wonder he didn’t die from the attack.
Today, he has a scar on the back of his head under his hair to remind him of the incident.
No one was ever arrested in connection with his assault, which is often the case.
One of the problems we face in our community is that not everyone — particularly young people and new residents to the area — has survived an attack or knows someone else who has. The truth is that the Dallas Police Department, no matter how hard they may try, cannot prevent all anti-gay violence.
LGBT people are one of the most frequently targeted groups of people in hate crime violence, according to FBI reports and the experts who study these issues.
That’s why there is an ongoing, desperate need for education to help people protect themselves. We have a lesbian liaison officer, Dallas Police Officer Laura Martin, who is widely admired in our community as an efficient and committed agent to that cause. But we have yet to hear from the new police chief as to whether she will be given the time and resources she needs to carry out those duties.
The police chief is now reviewing budget cuts for the police department.
We also need to know that discrimination against gay and lesbian police officers in the police department will not be tolerated. Just about any gay, lesbian or gay-friendly police officer you talk to will acknowledge homophobia still exists widely in the rank and file, albeit in a more subtle form than in previous years.
Attitude flows from the top, and we’d like to know exactly what will be coming down from our new police chief.
The word from good sources is that the new police chief has pledged to participate in the annual gay and lesbian Pride parade in September and to support the community’s needs, as was the habit of his predecessor, David Kunkle. A meet-and-greet reportedly is being planned for July to introduce Brown to the movers and shakers in the LGBT community
That’s all great, but in the meantime, in light of last weekend’s anti-gay hate crime assault, the LGBT community at large needs to hear from the new police chief now. We’ve got crucial concerns to be addressed.
Let’s hope Brown is ready to talk and will be calling soon. We’d like to chat.
David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who lives on Cedar Creek Lake now. He is the author of the blog TheRareReporter.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.