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Gray announces bullying ‘action plan’

Mayor hosts screening of documentary film ‘Bully’

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Vince Gray, safe-schools, bullying, gay news, gay politics dc

‘We must come together — government, nonprofits, advocates, teachers and parents — to eradicate bullying in the District, and promote safe and inclusive schools,’ said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced plans for a citywide anti-bullying initiative Wednesday night at a private screening hosted by the mayor’s office of the documentary film “Bully.”

“This comprehensive plan brings together D.C. government agencies, nonprofit organizations, community partners, and educators across the city to find solutions to confront and eradicate bullying across the District,” a statement released by the mayor’s office says.

Gray told the audience of invited guests at the screening, including representatives of the LGBT community, that he was proud to have the city host a showing of a film he called a “powerful” portrayal of how bullying impacts young people across the nation and in the District.

He told reporters at the time he arrived for the screening that his anti-bullying initiative, called the District of Columbia Anti-Bullying Action Plan, is to be led by the city’s Office of Human Rights.

The mayor’s anti-bullying plan comes less than two weeks before a D.C. City Council committee was expected to vote on an anti-bullying bill that has been stalled in the Council for nearly two years. The bill calls for the city’s public and charter schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the public library system and the University of the District of Columbia to develop comprehensive anti-bullying policies.

A spokesperson for Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), whose committee is expected to vote on the bill, said he was uncertain when the bill would be voted on by the full Council.

The mayor’s proposal calls for the creation of a “multi-stakeholder task force, the commissioning of a research report on bullying, creation of a model anti-bully policy and standards, and a “D.C. Agency and Stakeholder Forum.”

Gray said the task force would consist of the heads of 14 city agencies, including the police chief, chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, director of the mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs; director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, director of the Department of Health, director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, director of the Office of Disability Rights, head of the Child and Family Services Administration, and an official with the University of the District of Columbia.

Gustavo Velasquez, director of the Human Rights Office, said the task force would also include representatives of non-profit and advocacy organizations, including the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates as well as city teachers and parents.

“The problem of bullying transcends the school yard,” said Velasquez. “It is a fundamental issue of human rights, and requires the entire city to be present to promote solutions,” he said.

“We need to investigate where the bullying occurs in the city and what makes the District different from other cities in incidents of bullying so we can develop and implement solutions to best help our youth,” he said.

Gray said his plan’s “multi-sector approach” would seek to address the bullying problem in a comprehensive way.

“When one in five children are targets of bullying each day, and these events all too often lead to severe social and emotional crises for our youth, we must let our youth know that we hear them,” Gray said. “We must come together – government, nonprofits, advocates, teachers and parents – to eradicate bullying in the District, and promote safe and inclusive schools.”

The screening of the documentary “Bully” took place at the E Street Cinema in downtown D.C. Gray and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson provided details of the anti-bullying plan to the audience prior to the screening of the film.

Following the screening, Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Office of GLBT Affairs, led a panel discussion on the bullying issue with representatives of the city’s public schools, including two high school students.

Charles Allen, chief of staff for Council member Wells, said one of the reasons the Council’s anti-bullying bill had been stalled was an initial inability to determine where funds could be identified to pay for implementing the legislation.

In talking to the media prior to the film screening, Gray said he strongly supports the bill and would work with Wells and other members of the Council to secure the necessary funding for the bill.

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District of Columbia

D.C. police data show 67 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2022

Community continues to be hit with most bias incidents in city

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Recently released hate crime data by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department shows that similar to nearly every year since 2011, LGBTQ people in 2022 were victims of a hate crime in far greater numbers than the other categories of victims, such as ethnicity/national origin, race, religion, or disability.

The data show that 45 of the reported hate crimes in 2022 were based on the victim’s sexual orientation and 22 of the reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression, bringing the total number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes to 67.

By comparison, the 2022 data show that 30 reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s ethnicity or national origin, 20 were based on the victim’s race, and four on the victim’s religion. Three 2022 hate crimes were reported to be based on the victim’s status as a homeless person and just one reported hate crime was said to be based on the victim’s political affiliation.

The 67 reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2022 represent an increase over the 54 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2021. The 2021 data show that 38 of the reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s sexual orientation and 16 were based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression.

LGBTQ rights advocates, as well as law enforcement officials, have said they believe the reported number of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities are significantly less than the actual number of such cases because many go unreported.

“While the District strives to reduce crime for all residents of and visitors to the city, hate crimes can make a particular community feel vulnerable and more fearful,” a D.C. police statement accompanying the release of the hate crime data says. “This is unacceptable and is the reason everyone must work together not just to address allegations of hate crimes, but also to proactively educate the public about hate crimes,” the statement says.

Police and prosecutors have also pointed out that a hate crime is not legally classified as a crime in and of itself but instead as a hate or “bias” related designation to an underlying crime such as assault, threats of violence, destruction of property, and numerous other criminal offenses.

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain from D.C. police additional 2022 data showing which underlying criminal acts were linked to the LGBTQ related hate crimes. The Blade has also requested data showing how many of the 67 reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in 2022 resulted in an arrest.

In past years, police data have shown that far fewer arrests are made compared to the number of reported hate crime cases. Past data has also shown that the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia prosecutes significantly fewer hate crimes cases than those sent to prosecutors after an arrest has been made.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said that it has dropped a hate crime designation for cases on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to prove a motive of hate if the case goes before a trial by jury. Spokespersons for the office have said that when a hate crime designation is dropped, they often continue to prosecute the person arrested for the underlying crime.

A chart showing hate crime data reported by DC police from 2011 through 2022, including all categories of hate crimes, can be accessed at the D.C. police website.

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District of Columbia

Prosecutors drop multiple charges in D.C. gay murder case

One count remains for defendant in 2019 stabbing death of Vongell Lugo

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Vongell Lugo was stabbed to death in 2019.

Without providing a reason, prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia requested and received approval from a D.C. Superior Court judge on Jan. 23 to drop four of the five pending charges, including two counts of murder, against the man charged with the Jan. 6, 2019 murder of gay retail manager Vongell Lugo.

Court records show that Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter V. Roman asked Judge Marisa Demeo to dismiss four of the five charges handed down in an Aug. 20, 2019, grand jury indictment against former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Collin J. Potter, who was 26 years old when D.C. police charged him with fatally stabbing Lugo at least 47 times.

A single charge of First Degree Murder While Armed remains pending. 

An arrest affidavit filed in court states that the murder took place inside Lugo’s Northwest D.C. apartment shortly after the two men met, possibly for the first time, at the Black Whisky bar at 1410 14th St., N.W., and Lugo invited Potter to his apartment.

The arrest affidavit says police arrested Potter on the night of the murder after being called to the apartment building by a neighbor and after observing Potter fully nude standing over Lugo’s nude body that Potter minutes earlier dragged outside the apartment door. Potter has remained in jail since the time of his arrest on Jan. 6, 2019, while awaiting a trial that has repeatedly been postponed. The trial is currently scheduled for April 18.

Court records show that in response to a motion filed by an assistant U.S. attorney on Jan. 18 of this year, Judge Dameo agreed to drop Counts 1 through 4 of the grand jury indictment. Those charges include Kidnapping While Armed, Felony Murder While Armed (Aggravating Circumstances), First Degree Sexual Assault While Armed, and Felony Murder While Armed (Aggravating Circumstances).

Roman’s motion, which the judge approved, called for leaving in place Count 5 of the indictment – First Degree Murder While Armed (Premeditated) (Aggravating Circumstances).

When contacted by the Washington Blade, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to disclose the reason for the office’s decision to drop the four indictment counts.

“We cannot comment on matters not in the public record,” said spokesperson Patricia Hartman.

Prosecutors sometimes drop or lower charges against a defendant in cases like this in exchange for a plea bargain agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lower charge. Doing so avoids a trial, which prosecutors sometimes feel could result in a verdict of not guilty on all or some of the charges.

The public court records in the case pending against Potter do not show whether a plea bargain offer was made prior to the dropping of the four charges. Potter’s defense attorney, Matthew Davis, has not responded to attempts by the Blade to reach him for comment on the case. 

The next court hearing for the case, a Trial Readiness Hearing, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 3. The Blade couldn’t immediately determine whether an explanation for why prosecutors chose to dismiss the four indictment counts would be disclosed at the Feb. 3 hearing.

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District of Columbia

Three juveniles arrested for armed robbery in Dupont Circle area

Incidents took place near 17th and 18th street LGBTQ bars

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D.C. police announced on Monday that detectives have arrested three juvenile males for allegedly engaging in four separate armed robbery related offenses on Sunday, Jan. 29, between 9:45 and 10:14 p.m.

Three of the incidents took place on streets in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, including areas where three LGBTQ bars are located.

In a Jan. 30 statement, police said the juveniles assaulted two of the four reported victims in the separate robbery related incidents, but no serious injury was reported.

“On Sunday, January 29, 2023, two 16-year-old juvenile males and a 15-year-old juvenile male, all of Northwest D.C., were arrested and charged with the above offenses,” the police statement says. It lists the offenses as Attempted Armed Robbery, Armed Robbery (Gun), Assault With a Dangerous Weapon (Gun), and Armed Robbery (Gun).

“The 15-year-old juvenile male was additionally charged with Carrying a Pistol Without a License, Possession of an Unregistered Firearm, Possession of Unregistered Ammunition, and Possession of a Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device,” according to the police statement.

“It’s very alarming because these are in the heart of Dupont and the gay core,” said Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jeff Rueckgauer.

Police reports for each of the incidents say that none of them were classified as a hate crime.

The police statement says one of the incidents took place at about 9:50 p.m. on the 1900 block of T Street, N.W., when two suspects, with one brandishing a handgun, approached the victim and demanded the victim’s property. “The victim complied and then one of the suspects assaulted the victim,” the statement says, before the suspects fled the scene in a vehicle. The offense is listed as an Armed Robbery (Gun).

That incident took place a little over one block from the gay bar Larry’s Lounge, which is located at 18th and T St., N.W.

A second of the four incidents took place at approximately 9:54 p.m. in front of 1604 Q St., N.W. , according to a police incident report, when three of the juvenile suspects approached the victim, with one in possession of a handgun. The police incident report says the victim was able to escape from the suspects by entering the building where the incident occurred, the Claridge House Apartments, where the victim lives.

“No injuries were reported,” the separate police statement says.  The statement lists the incident as an Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (Gun).

The third incident occurred in front of the nearby apartment building at 1700 Q St., N.W. at about 10:14 p.m. when the three suspects, one carrying a handgun, approached the victim. The police statement says the suspects assaulted the victim, took property from the victim and then fled the scene in a vehicle. The offense is listed as Armed Robbery (Gun). The incident report says the victim lives in another part of Northwest D.C.

The 1600 and 1700 blocks of Q St., N.W are located within one or two blocks from several bars and restaurants with a large LGBTQ clientele.

The police statement says the fourth incident linked to the three arrested juveniles took place about 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 29 in the 2400 block of Connecticut Ave., N.W. on the Taft Bridge. “One of the suspects brandished a handgun and checked the victim for property,” the statement says. “The suspects then fled the scene without obtaining any property.” The incident is listed as an Attempted Armed Robbery.

One of the police incident reports says police were able to make the arrests after one or more police officers who responded to the locations where the incidents occurred observed the suspects entering a vehicle that was later found abandoned on a D.C. street. Based on descriptions of the suspects “a canvas of nearby Metro stations” resulted in the three suspects being stopped, the report says. Upon conducting a “protective pat-down” police found a handgun in the possession of one of the suspects, the report says. 

The police statement and the incident reports do not disclose whether any of the victims were patrons of the many bars, restaurants, or other businesses in the area, including the nearby LGBTQ bars.

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