Hate Crime Allegations Dismissed in Attack on S.F. Transgender Woman

Categories: LGBT, Law & Order
This isn't exactly how the LGBT community imagined kicking off gay pride
SF Weekly readers might recall the incident two months ago when two men were arrested after beating a transgender woman on the 16th Street BART plaza. Well, despite the public outcry over the incident -- which sparked a rally at City Hall -- a judge decided today to dismiss the felony hate crime charges.

That's probably not exactly what the LGBT community had in mind to kick off Gay Pride weekend.

The two men -- Lionel Jackson, 32, and Maurice Perry, 37 -- allegedly attacked the woman on April 1 outside the BART station at Mission and 16th streets after taking her cellphone. According to media reports, the 20-year-old woman, who called herself Mia, was on the plaza when the two men started verbally harassing her. Witnesses said they punched her in the face "very brutally" and knocked her to the ground and kicked her.

Witnesses testified that one of the men said, "Oh, I hate men dressed up as women."
On Wednesday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Bruce Chan ordered Jackson and Perry to stand trial on charges of assault, second-degree robbery, and violating the victim's civil rights. However, he dismissed felony hate-crime allegations, according to the District Attorney's Office. 

Jackson and Perry will return to court on July 7 for formal arraignment on the other charges.

District Attorney George Gascón, who is running for DA in November, didn't take the news well. He gathered reporters at his office this morning to tell them he plans to take this case to the higher courts.

"We disagree with the judge's decision in this case," Gascón says. "The facts presented support the conclusion that the felony hate-crime allegations should be heard by a jury -- the victim has earned her day in court. Singling out people because of who they are is not who we are as San Franciscans."

Theresa Sparks, executive director of the city's Human Rights Commission, also released a statement: "These types of incidences are initiated and provoked by internalized bias and hate and we must all stand up to these crimes.  If it becomes acceptable for one community to continuously fall victim to hate, then no one is really safe."

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Without seeing the evidence, it is hard to criticize the judge's decision.  Robbery of anyone is a serious felony, and the perpetrators are being prosecuted for it, so they are hardly walking away.  Hate crimes legislation is fairly controversial, even among the LGBT community.  (E.g., I remember a few years ago when I was in Civic Center for Pride, and I saw group of young gay men angrily verbally accost a man trying to get people to sign a petition for stronger hate crimes laws.  The young men accused the man pushing the petition of perpetuating institutionalized racism because they believed minorities are disproportionately charged with committing hate crimes).  We have civil rights laws to protect individuals who are subject to a specific pattern of criminal activity and threats with the intent of denying the targets of their civil rights (e.g. voter intimidation).  However, I am not sure we need additional laws to enhance the penalties for general criminal acts (such as robbery, etc.).  I am fairly certain these thugs have assaulted other people who are not transgender.  They are criminals who would commit a crime against anyone, and I do not know why they need to be dealt with more harshly simply because their victim in this case happened to be transgendered.  They should be punished for robbing and assaulting a fellow human being, period.  

Setting aside the public policy debate, it is possible that the judge rightly decided that the facts did not support that a hate crime had occurred.  The prosecutor would have to establish that the perpetrators specifically targeted the women because she was transgendered.  It is possible that they simply had decided to rob her, and then in the process of robbing her they realized she was trangedered and made a disparaging remark to her--that is a crime, but not a hate crime.

I wish the victim a speedy recovery, and I hope the men who attacked her are appropriately dealt with by the criminal justice system.

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