A high-profile no-show at DC Council’s hearing on ‘failure to prosecute’ hate crimes

D.C. continues to experience a rise in hate crimes, and members of the D.C. Council held a hearing Wednesday to learn why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting so few of the reported crimes that way.

But no one from the U.S. Attorney’s Office showed up.

In opening the hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Failure to Prosecute by the Office of the United States Attorney,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Allen, D-Ward 6, laid out the latest numbers.

“For 2018, for example, there were 204 reports [of hate crimes] that led to 59 arrests. So 28% led to arrests. Only three led to a prosecution,” said Allen, who called the numbers over the last few years “atrocious.”

Among the most reported hate crimes are flagged by D.C. police as motivated by sexual orientation bias, said Q Garcia Geary of SMYAL, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League.

“The fear of violence for simply existing is a shared experience amongst all LGBTQ people. For us, hate crimes are not an anomaly; they are the norm,” Geary said.

The office of U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu submitted a seven-page letter in response to the hearing, but no one from the office provided testimony.

“It’s just an absolute shame, and it is insulting to the people of the District of Columbia that they cannot be here,” Allen said after Liu, who had been on the witness list, did not attend the hearing.

“The increasing number of reported hate crimes, especially on transgender women, is deeply troubling to me,” said Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray. He noted the recent murder of Zoe Spears in Prince George’s County, Maryland, as well as the assault of two gay men by teens at a Ward 7 gas station.

“This hearing is about our safety and, above all, whether we value the lives and dignity of everyone in the community,” said ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein, representing the ANC Rainbow Caucus. “Transgender women are being harassed, attacked and killed. Many don’t go out alone anymore. It’s almost like they’re being hunted down for sport.”

The committee heard testimony about two proposed bills aimed at redressing the so-called “gay panic defense,” which can still be used in court.

“Unethical lawyers should not be allowed to make the argument that people in minority groups are somehow different, weird or perverted,” said resident Mark Rodeffer, who testified to his experience as the victim of a hate crime which, he said, was unjustly litigated.

Nina Ginsburg, who represents the National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers, which opposes the bills, warned the council of the possibility of infringing on constitutional rights.

“The two bills being considered will do nothing to address any rising tide in violence,” she said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C. did not get the opportunity to respond.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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