‘If you see something, say something,’ minister, others advise
“We owe it to one another to be extra vigilant,” the Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas said after suitcases were found outside the door of Cathedral of Hope on Sunday, June 19, just a week after 49 people were shot to death inside an Orlando gay nightclub.
Cazares-Thomas said the church has stepped up security after the Orlando murders. Before the church opens now, a security officer checks the perimeter.
It was while checking the property that first Sunday after the Orlando attack that the guard found two suitcases and a laptop bag with something beeping inside.
That prompted an evacuation of the building and a call to police, who in turn summoned the bomb squad.
Cazares-Thomas moved the 9 a.m. service outside, but the bomb squad swept the church inside and out and had the bags removed in time for the 11 a.m. service to take place inside.
Cazares-Thomas’ advice for people to use throughout the community — in bars and businesses, offices and churches — is if you see something, say something.
Church officials later learned the bags belonged to two homeless people who thought they were leaving their belongings in a safe place. And it would have been, the pastor said, had they let someone know. In fact, he added, the church would have locked the bags up kept them secure for the owners had church officials known what the bags were.
Instead it prompted a call to police.
“It’s sad we have to do that,” Cazares-Thomas said.
The church has done quite a bit of work to ensure its safety, including studying a video put out by the FBI and Homeland Security.
Ushers are the first people who greet anyone coming into the church, Cazares-Thomas said, and they are the first line of defense against an attack. “You can tell a lot about someone who won’t make eye contact,” he said.
According to the FBI video, if you do make that eye contact, the likelihood a shooter will carry through with his plan goes down.
Cazares-Thomas said the Orlando shooter was wearing a coat and carrying a backpack. Take note if someone is dressed inappropriately, he advised.
“We’re not allowing backpacks or big purses,” Cazares-Thomas said, adding that the alternative is to go through everyone’s backpacks and purses — and no one at the church wants to do that. Instead, church-goers can check those larger bags or return them to their car.
But taking steps to remain safe doesn’t mean living in fear.
“Go about your normal life,” Cazares-Thomas advised. “Don’t let fear win.”
Bob Roton, Legacy Counseling Center’s clinic director, said although he’s trained to look for suspicious behavior, the trick is knowing when suspicious behavior is actually dangerous behavior.
Police and airport security usually look for someone who’s behaving nervously. That wouldn’t work in a gay bar where someone may be nervous because it’s his first time in a bar or nervous about returning to a bar after the Orlando massacre, Roton said.
Actually, a bit of nervous behavior in an LGBT bar would be quite natural right now.
Roton also suggests engaging someone who seems to be behaving suspiciously; have a conversation with the person.
Roton said one situation he sees in his office is when someone who’s been referred to Legacy is given an appointment or referral elsewhere and then doesn’t leave. Or they leave, walk around the parking lot and then come back.
That can happen in any office. Someone comes into the lobby and asks a question, but then doesn’t leave after he gets an answer.
If the situation seems threatening, call for help — either building security or the police. Dallas police are on high alert to protect the LGBT community right now. They’re aware of LGBT events going on through the end of the year and the location of many gay businesses. If you’re calling from an LGBT-owned business, especially in the Oak Lawn area, let the 911 operator know.
Caven Enterprises CEO Gregg Kilhoffer said his clubs and others in Oak Lawn have banned backpacks for awhile.
If someone using public transportation comes in with a backpack, and therefore has no vehicle in which to store the bag, bartenders will check the bag behind the bar.
If someone arrived wearing inappropriate clothing, Kilhoffer said, door staff checks them before letting that person in.
Still, bartenders get busy and may not notice when packages are left or when bags are unattended, Kilhoffer said.
So, “If you see something that doesn’t look right, please notify a bartender.”
He said bartenders in all the clubs in Oak Lawn have safety procedures they follow and appreciate customers looking out for everyone’s safety. So if you see something or someone that seems out of place, speak up, he said. Interrupt. Do whatever you need to do to get the attention of a manager, floor staff, door personnel or a bartender.
Look for packages left next to a building, in the bushes or elsewhere. Notify security or call 911 rather than examine the package yourself.
Look for odd behavior among other patrons inside the club. But what does odd behavior look like?
If you see someone who looks nervous, approach that person. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Start a conversation. In most cases, that person was just nervous about being in a bar by himself. In the rare case where you suspect something, say something to bar staff. They’ll keep an eye on the person and call security or the police if necessary.
Kilhoffer also advised club-goers to be aware of their surroundings and know where all the exits are.
Staying home isn’t an answer. Looking out for each other and being aware of what’s going on around us will help keep the community safe.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2016.