Large crowd attends crime watch meeting held at Sue Ellen’s
By Mathew Shaw | Contributing Writer
A panel of five — including representatives from Dallas police, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and a hate crime survivor — addressed concerns about the recent attacks in Oak Lawn and gave safety advice to community members Tuesday night, Oct. 27, at Sue Ellen’s on Throckmorton Street.
On the panel were Sr. Cpl. Brittani Pilcik of the Dallas Police Department, Executive Chief Deputy Jesse Flores and Chief Deputy Jesse Herrera of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, Assistant District Attorney Craig McNeil of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and 2011 hate crime survivor Burke Burnett.
The panel was organized by Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats.
About two dozen community members showed up to ask the panel questions ranging from what’s being done to ensure safety in Oak Lawn to privacy concerns for victims of attacks. One audience member said some victims of attacks do not want their names released for fear of losing their jobs.
But Pilcik stressed the importance of speaking up. “If a crime happens, it needs to be reported,” she said. “If it’s not reported, it didn’t happen.”
She added that people can call 9-1-1 anonymously and she never uses names at crime watch meetings.
McNeil, chair of the Dallas County DA Office’s LGBT Task Force, said prosecuting a crime eventually becomes a public event, but there is little to fear because the stigma of being gay is shrinking.
“Fortunately this stigma that’s crazily existed for so long is going away,” he said. “We don’t have to worry as much about our employer knowing we’re gay. It’s more appropriate to make sure that criminals are punished appropriately.”
Dallas resident Jaime Dominguez, who was attacked in Oak Lawn on Oct. 2, said some people who get attacked in the area are blamed for being drunk at the time. He said although the community response after his attack was mostly positive, he did get a few judgmental questions.
“There have been people [who asked], ‘Well, did you fight with anybody? How drunk were you? Do you remember anything? Why don’t you remember anything?’” he said. “It’s victim blaming. Even if I was black-out drunk, does that mean I somehow deserved to be attacked?”
McNeil said victims are asked by the police if they were drinking because it’s going to be an issue during trial when the defense attorney asks that same question.
“If you’re fall-down drunk, no one has the right to assault you just because you were drunk,” he said.
McNeil added that one could still remember what an attacker looked like after two or three drinks.
Pilcik reassured the audience that the city would take steps to increase safety in Oak Lawn.
“I think [Dallas City Council member Adam] Medrano is very good,” she said. “He says he’s going to do something, he follows through.”
Medrano, who represents Oak Lawn, announced last week that Dallas police plan to increase patrols in the Oak Lawn area, according to Dallas Morning News. There is also a change.org petition to increase the number of streetlights and cameras in the area, which had 1,212 signatures as of Oct. 28.
One audience member said some crime victims don’t go to the police because they don’t believe the crime will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
McNeil said there’s not always enough evidence to prosecute a crime as a hate crime.
“We have to look at the evidence we have,” he said. “We have to hear what the person said. Were they using anti-gay statements while they were committing the crime?”
McNeil, who is a member of the LGBT community, said his office would make sure justice is done and no one is looked down on.
Cannon Brown, Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats president, asked the panel what steps are being taken for the police department to interact with the community better.
“It starts with you people coming out,” Pilcik told the audience. “It’s nice to see you guys coming out. I go to crime watch meetings all the time, and there might be 10 people there. That’s it. You have to come talk to us. You have to get involved. Let us talk to you.”
The panel gave advice to the audience about how to stay safe when out at night.
“If I have to walk or run or whatever, I carry my gun,” Flores said. “I don’t expect any of you to carry guns, but I do expect you to take care of yourselves. Look at your surroundings. There’s some folks that you can read right away. Think like a police officer. Who’s out there? The best defense is you. We can help as cops, but we’re after the fact.”
Flores also let the audience know how brave he thought they were.
“It takes a tremendous amount of courage to be here, and I applaud you,” he said. “I can assure you, we’ll do everything we can within our powers to protect you.”
Herrera said to park in well-lit areas, always go out with friends and to have a designated driver and designed person to watch everyone’s backs.
“Watch out who’s looking at you,” he said. “There are predators out there. They look for weaknesses in people, whether they’re not watching, whether they’re handicapped.”
Herrera also told the audience to call the police with whatever information they have.
“Sometimes they have information and they think it’s nothing,” he said. “It might be something. It might be a link they need.”
McNeil encouraged the audience to go out in groups and to report suspicious activity.
“Before I was an assistant DA, I was an army officer for a long time,” he said. “One thing that’s been embedded in me in Iraq is if you see something, say something. Another thing that was ingrained in us was the buddy system. Don’t go anywhere by yourself. You’ve got to do something to not be a victim. We want survivors.”
Burnett said people need to speak up to make change happen. He also said his case was tried appropriately because of community outreach such as writing letters to the police department.
“The most important weapon that any one of us has is our voice,” he said. “Write letters to your police department thanking them for what they’re doing. Do the same with the District Attorney’s office. Whenever you leave tonight, ask to speak with the manager. Ask these people why there aren’t cameras, what the plan is to get cameras. Use your voice.”