D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and officials with the United States Attorney’s Office and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General called for improvements in the city’s juvenile justice system as a means of addressing a sharp increase in hate crimes targeting the LGBT community.
Lanier and the other officials answered questions and pledged to redouble efforts to combat anti-LGBT hate crimes at an April 14 town hall meeting sponsored jointly by the D.C. group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General and the D.C. Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
GLOV Chair A.J. Singletary opened the meeting, held at the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U Streets, N.W., by reviewing recent D.C. police crime statistics showing that hate crimes in the city targeting LGBT people increased by 40 percent over the past year.
“This troubling increase in hate crimes against the LGBT community must be stopped,” he said. “GLOV is committed to ensuring the District government is doing all that it should to protect our community, and we must ensure that the community is doing what it can to protect itself.”
Singletary and GLOV Vice Chair Hassan Naveed told of GLOV’s programs aimed at educating LGBT people on steps they can take to avoid being targeted for a hate crime and how best to respond when threatened with anti-LGBT violence. Details of the group’s anti-violence programs can be accessed at glovdc.org.
Lanier and Robert Hildum, deputy D.C. Attorney General for public safety, said a large number of hate crimes targeting the LGBT community are committed by juveniles, who, upon arrest, must be processed through a juvenile justice system they described as flawed. The strict privacy rules required under D.C.’s juvenile justice laws often prevent D.C. police from properly investigating crimes of violence by sometimes barring them from questioning youth charged in crimes.
In addition to Singletary and Naveed, others speaking at the town hall were Andrew Barnett, executive director of the LGBT organization Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL); Chris Farris, former GLOV co-chair; and Wendy Pohlhaus, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney for External Affairs.
Pohlhaus said the U.S. Attorney’s office, which prosecutes criminal cases in D.C., must carefully decide which cases should be prosecuted as hate crimes based on the language in the city’s hate crimes statute.
“It’s sometimes hard for the community to understand that the government must prove that a crime was committed because of hatred or prejudice” in order to successfully prosecute a case as a hate crime, she said.
Singletary said it was significant that much of the top brass of the police department attended the town hall meeting, including Deputy Chief Diane Groomes and the heads of the police units that oversee the GLLU.