Oak Lawn goes on lockdown patrol as community demands protection while searching for long term solutions
When Geoffrey Hubbard was attacked on Thursday, Nov. 19 as he walked home from work at Cedar Springs Tap House, the community reacted in a way that it hadn’t after other recent attacks.
Earlier that day, police had two meetings with the LGBT community, merchants and bar owners. At one held at the Round-Up Saloon, community members blamed businesses for not doing more. Businesses blamed the city for not providing proper protection, and community members heard, once again, that they were partly responsible because they’re walking alone in unlit areas.
But once photos of Hubbard — bandaged and bloodied, waiting to see a doctor in Baylor’s emergency room — circulated, and word got out that he spent the day in the ICU, gay men decided to take matters into their own hands.
People with concealed carry licenses announced their plans to do everything from escort Cedar Springs restaurant and bar employees home or to their cars to acting as decoys, hoping to lure assailants into attacking someone who was armed and ready to fight back.
That night, Mayor Mike Rawlings and Councilman Adam Medrano walked the Strip showing their concern and pledged to make the area safe again. Medrano moved $600,000 in bond money earmarked for area improvements to safety projects. Councilman Philip Kingston matched that amount later in the weekend.
“People should be able to work and enjoy the nightlife in our city without falling victim to violent crime,” Rawlings told Dallas Voice. “The recent string of attacks in Oak Lawn is particularly concerning because of this neighborhood’s history as a safe and vibrant place for our LGBT residents. I’m pleased that Police Chief David
Brown has devoted significant additional resources to patrol the area and investigate the crimes. I also urge our residents and visitors there and across the city to travel in groups and look out for one another.”
The bond money will go into cameras monitored by police and additional lighting, among other things. A committee of the Mayor’s LGBT Task Force is studying how to allocate the resources. The first camera was installed at Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street this week.
Police put Oak Lawn on lockdown patrol for the weekend. If a dozen cracked skulls didn’t force police to provide a visible presence during the past two months, the threat of gays with guns did.
While police have been working the area for the past two months, mostly undercover, and have developed some leads — Dallas Voice was unable, as of press time, to confirm reports of an arrest — the community saw little police presence.
That changed on Friday night with police cars visibly patrolling the streets surrounding the entertainment district. Through the weekend, no attacks were reported.
Thairiffic owner Danny Sikora said the lockdown made a noticeable difference. He said the alley that runs behind his building is dangerous. Two of the attacks happened just off that alley behind the Valero station.
“There was decreased panhandling, people dealing stolen merchandise and drug deals,” he said.
At a demonstration in front of Dallas Police headquarters in The Cedars on Sunday night, Nov. 22, about 100 angry community members rallied to thank police for the visible presence that weekend but to demand that level of attention continue until arrests are made.
Organizer Daniel Cates noted the differing response to 12 gay men being attacked in Oak Lawn over two months resulting in no arrests and “a few
Highland Park women attacked just blocks away on the Katy Trail.” Arrests were made within a week.
Lee Daugherty, owner of Alexandre’s, attended the DPD headquarters rally.
“The Dallas police lock-down patrol was such an impressive response. The mayor and Medrano’s visit was impressive and now Kingston’s on board with additional bond money,” Daugherty said, “But we need permanent, long-term solutions.”
For the protection of his own business and customers, Daugherty uses the security company USSI to provide private patrols in his parking lot. He also pays for them to protect Resource Center. USSI works with ilume, too.
On Monday night, USSI owner and security manager Matthew Antkowiak visited Cedar Springs and dropped in on businesses along the strip with
Daugherty to get a feel for the situation, speaking with business owners and patrons.
At his own expense, Antkowiak decided to increase the number of officers at each Oak Lawn site it patrols from one to two. He’s sending patrol cars on “randomized patrols” and sending his company’s “criminal intelligence private investigation team into the Oak Lawn area.”
Antkowiak explained his concern: “Some of my team is from the community.”
As a former DPD officer who started his security company just two years ago, Antkowiak said he understands just how stretched Dallas police resources are. He said he’d like to see the mounted unit and motorcycles join the patrol cars in the area. He’d also like to see Sheriff Lupe Valdez contribute to the solution by sending deputies into Oak Lawn to help patrol.
Daugherty would like to increase patrols throughout the area to residential streets, but he can’t do that by himself. He called on property managers to contribute to a fund to pay for the patrols.
Antkowiak agreed, and had a warning.
“If a property manager knows there’s a problem and they fail to act, there’s liability,” he said.
Former Mayor Pro Tem John Loza, who represented the district now represented by Councilman Adam Medrano said, “If I were still a councilman, I would not spend one thin dime on Cedar Springs beyond expanded police presence until the property owners along Cedar Springs agreed to form a Public
Improvement District whereby they would pay slightly higher property taxes to pay for improvements in the neighborhood — including security.”
He said every other entertainment district in Dallas has one.
“There is only so much city money to go around,” Loza said.
Crime such as Sikora described as well as vehicle burglaries continue to happen in the neighborhood. Liquid Zoo owner Don Scarborough said he had no idea whether the petty thieves — like two who stole items from cars in his parking lot on Monday, Nov. 23 — are related to the violent attacks.
Video caught two men rifling through cars in the Liquid Zoo parking lot. They opened unlocked doors, took purses out one of the cars, removed what they wanted from the purses and left them on the ground.
Two bar patrons saw two men milling around the parking lot, but because Monday is poker night, he just figured they were also customers who just went outside for awhile.
Scarborough said police response time was bad — about two hours. Once the police arrived, Scarborough gave them video he downloaded from cameras he has pointed at the back parking lot. That video shows the suspects driving away in a white SUV.
Hopefully, police can enhance the video to read the license plate on the car, Scarborough said, adding that if the car wasn’t stolen, “we can nail their asses.”
Scarborough noted that none of the cars were forcibly broken into; the thieves simply opened the doors of unlocked cars — four unlocked cars, just in his small parking lot.
Scarborough said he couldn’t believe that with everything going on in Oak Lawn, he had to remind people to lock their doors and not leave purses and other valuables visible inside their vehicles.
Oak Lawn resident Michael Phelps has a concealed weapon permit. Even with increased police presence in the neighborhood, he said he doesn’t intend to sit idly by.
“We have and will continue to have multiple residents patrolling the Oak Lawn neighborhood from sundown to sunrise,” he said.
The police can’t be everywhere, all the time, nor can they hear everything that goes on, Phelps continued. “The police can’t stop this from ever happening again, but we will. Stay together, be alert, but above all, do not be afraid.”
David Downing and Chuck Gary will offer a self-defense workshop at the Round-Up Saloon, 3912 Cedar Springs Road, from noon-1 p.m on Saturday, Nov. 28. If there’s interest, the workshop may develop later into a full class.
Gary teaches boxing and martial arts. When Downing was a teen who was bullied in school, his aunt taught him some self-defense techniques. Together, they’ll demonstrate that size doesn’t matter in protecting yourself.
Downing said this isn’t actually a class, but those attending will learn some basic self-defense techniques.
“Incapacitate them long enough to get the hell out of there,” Downing recommended for those facing assailants and explaining the goal of the techniques that will be featured in Saturday’s session.
In some cases, even if the attacker has a gun, there are ways to knock the gun away and escape, Downing said, adding that he and Gary will discuss using keys to protect yourself.
But Downing has one technique he said might work better than any other to avoid getting hurt in attacks like the ones that have plagued Oak Lawn for the past two months: Run!
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27 2015.