Hate crimes on the rise, no one knows why

Published: November 3, 2011

WASHINGTON — After a rash of violence, claims of inaction and hours of back-and-forth, one thing is clear: D.C. police and the city’s transgender community can’t agree on a single thing.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, called a hate crimes hearing in response to recent attacks against members of the transgender community. He expressed a deep desire to understand why they are happening and what can be done to prevent them.

No one could provide an answer Wednesday evening.

"Trans people have always reported feeling unsafe when going about their lives in D.C.," said Jason Terry, an organizer from the DC Trans Coalition. "After this past summer, that feeling has been exacerbated."

Witnesses from the trans community offered several anecdotes about the police department either being insensitive toward members of their community or downright dismissive of complaints filed by people who had experienced some form of harassment or violence.

At the heart of their complaint was the case of Kenneth Furr, an off-duty police officer who is accused of shooting at several transgender women on Aug. 26 after being refused sex by one of them. The responding officer at the scene failed to take a police report, and Furr was found to be intoxicated at the time.

"We are not seeing a willingness to take disciplinary action," Terry said.

In her testimony, Police Chief Cathy Lanier parried the attacks against her officers, arguing that sensitivity training is a top priority for the department. This week alone, 25 officers are undergoing training to help them better handle bias-related crimes. The trick, she says, is recognizing a hate crime versus a crime of opportunity. Just because a transgender person is attacked doesn’t mean they are attacked because they are transgender.

"We have had five incidents where there was violence against transgender members of the community," Lanier said. "Only one has been classified as a hate crime."

When pressed by Mendelson to explain the perceived uptick in crimes against the transgender community, Lanier, like the trans activists at the hearing, was stumped.

"Biased-related crimes are not up compared to last year, but I am seeing more reported," she offered.

On WTOP’s Ask the Chief program Thursday, she went on to explain that areas where those attacks occurred are consistent with where other violence takes place.

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