Category: Assault

As the ongoing pandemic rages across the world, people in every state in the United States are required, or have been required, to stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. Being confined in the home has posed a litany of added stressors, including financial problems and mental health deterioration’s. 

The additional problems and sources of stress, as well as the nature of being home far more than people are used to, have contributed to a subsequent rise in domestic violence (DV). Police have seen varying degrees of increases in DV calls across the nation, some as high as 20%. This trend is no different in the DMV. DC law enforcement has spoken about the fear of a rise in DV during the lockdown since March, and national trends seem to affirm that concern. 

DC Domestic Violence Laws

The District of Columbia Criminal Code details what would constitute an arrest for DV as follows:Domestic violence - DC

“A law enforcement officer shall arrest a person if the law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the person: committed an intrafamily offense that resulted in physical injury, including physical pain or illness, regardless of whether or not the intrafamily offense was committed in the presence of the law enforcement officer”. 

The term “intrafamily” refers to a domestic partner, which can be defined as “a spouse, lover, sibling, parent, child, or roommate”. The aforementioned definition of DV in DC would constitute simple assault, which is defined as “a misdemeanor offense involving either the threat of force or the actual use of force”. 


Standard of Proof for DV Simple Assault

 As with any criminal case, the government must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of a DV simple assault case, the government must prove the following three elements:

  1. Either that the defendant intended to use force or violence against the other person or that he/she intended to put that person in fear of immediate injury.
  2. That the defendant’s actions were intentional and not the result of a mistake or accident.
  3. That at the time of the alleged incident, the defendant had the “apparent ability” to injure the other person.

Potential Punishments if Convicted

The maximum penalties for sentences for DV cases are the same as other simple assault cases, 180 days in jail and/or $1000 fine. However, judges typically sentence DV cases harsher due to their proclivity to reoccur. As with other cases, the Court will view a variety of factors when determining sentencing. Notably, however, many diversion options typically available to first-time offenders are not available in DV cases. 

There may be an option of a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA) which would entail the defendant entering a guilty plea, and then being given a particular amount of time to complete a set of requirements, which may include anger management training, mental health evaluations, or completion of a Domestic Violence Intervention Program. 

Contact our Attorneys Today

 If you have questions about DC’s domestic violence laws or require legal representation, reach out to Bruckheim & Patel to speak with attorney Sweta Patel or Kelsey Penna at 202-930-3464.  

The District of Columbia realizes that mistakes happen. According to the law, an assault must be done intentionally for it to constitute an assault. The Code of the District of Columbia states and an incident constitutes an assault if the defendant, “unlawfully assaults, or threatens another in a menacing manner, and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes [the incident]”.Regardless of the type of assault, there must be an intention to commit a crime for it to actually be assault. The D.C. Criminal Code recognizes a defense of accident or mistake to assault charges if the incident lacks knowledge or intention. In the case of an accident or a mistake, the law acknowledges these actions had no intention, and therefore this can be invoked as a defense in your case.

In the case of invoking a defense of accident or mistake, you are admitting to the assault but claim it happened in circumstances in which you had no intentions. Consider a simple scenario: It’s raining and you’re using an umbrella. You turn around and accidentally strike somebody with the umbrella. In this instance, you could use a defense of accident at trial, which would entail you admitting you struck the person with the umbrella, but that you had no intention of hitting them, and it was purely an accident. At trial, your attorney must present evidence to the court that convinces them the event was an accident or a mistake. In the previous scenario, your attorney could present evidence to the court that it was raining the day of the incident and why you had to turn around. When invoking an accident or mistake defense, it is the defendant’s burden to prove there was a lack of intent.

A defense of mistake is invoked very rarely in the District of Columbia. Typically, there are two types of mistake defenses: mistake of law or mistake of fact. However, in the District of Columbia, courts have consistently ruled that not knowing the law is not a defense. Because of this, mistake of fact is the sole mistake defense available to defendants in the District. A mistake of fact defense must prove there were circumstances unknown to the defendant that prevented them from knowing they were breaking the law. Like a defense of accident, this defense is used to defend an assault if there was no intent and it is the burden of the defense to prove this. Your attorney must provide the Court with evidence which proves a mistake of fact occurred. However, this can often be hard to prove, which is why a mistake of fact defense can sometimes not be the best defense for your circumstances.

If you are charged with committing a crime you committed due to an accident or a mistake it is imperative you contact a skilled and experienced DC assault attorney to aid in your defense. The maximum jail sentence for a simple assault charge is 180 days and/or $1000 fine, or if the incident resulted in significant bodily injury up to three years. With the possibility of such severe sentences, contact the DC assault attorneys at Bruckheim & Patel to help you receive the best possible outcome.

Students at American University in Washington D.C. found bananas hung from trees and lamp posts covered in racially offensive messages targeting African American students. The bananas were hung using string nooses. The incident occurred the first day of finals week in May of 2017, which also happened to be the day the first female African American student president was due to take office. Surveillance footage shows a lone white male walking around the campus in the early hours of the morning. The university, Washington Metropolitan Police, and the FBI have all identified this man as the suspect. They also said they were investigating the incident as a hate crime, making it the second suspected hate crime in two years to occur on the university’s campus.

Unfortunately, the incidents at American University mirror a greater national trend. The FBI reported a 6% rise in hate crimes in 2015, the latest data available. Just as disturbing, in Washington D.C., hate crimes rose an astonishing 62% in 2016; from 66 in 2015 to 107 in 2016, even though overall crime has decreased by 9% in the past two years.

The Bias Related Crime Act of 1989 defines a hate crime in the District of Columbia as any crime, whether committed or attempted, “that demonstrates an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation.” The act further describes bias or hate as a motive for a crime, meaning that a hate crime is not a crime itself but acts as an enhancement to a crime. This is further reflected in that the courts can enhance the maximum fine or jail time up to 1 ½ times the maximum amount for any charge when charged with a hate crime.

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has reports that 69 hate crimes are already under investigation in 2017 from January to the end of June. If this trend continues, 2017 will see another vast increase in hate crimes investigated in the District. Between 2015 and 2016, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, and gender identity bias hate crimes had the largest increases. MPD also reported that 12 of the 18 religion biased crimes reported in 2016 were committed against people of the Jewish faith. The same year, the famous China Town/ Gallery Place crosswalk, which is decorated in images of the Chinese Zodiac, was defaced twice in religious based hated crimes. The first was an anti-Semitic instance in which the word “Jews” was written in the Chinese Zodiac rats and swastikas were also drawn. A suspect has since been arrested. A second incident targeted Muslims, in which suspects wrote racial slurs in the Chinese Zodiac pigs. From January to June in 2017, national origin, race, religion, and political afflation bias hate crimes were up for the same period in 2016.

Both Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Acting Chief of Police Peter Newsham have said the rise in hate crimes in Washington could be attributed to both the increased anxiety of the presidential election as well as an increase in crime reporting. The last presidential election cycle, 2011 and 2012, also had an increase in reported hate crimes. Furthermore, the MPD reported Northwest Washington accounted for 69% of all reported hate crimes in the district, which they attributed to citizens being more inclined to talk to authorities.

Mayor Bowser has also said she was increasing efforts to reach out to the transgender community after two disturbing and national media grabbing hate crimes occurred around the Fourth of July.

A group of four suspects were accused of assault and attempted robbery of a transgender woman. They have also accused of five additional robberies, two of which targeted transgender women resulting in the death of one of the victims. The four suspects have been charged with Robbery Conspiracy and First Degree Felony Murder While Armed in the death of the transgender woman. Officials say the murder is being investigated as a hate crime. If found guilty, the maximum jail time for the felony murder charge will increase from 60 years to 90 years due to the hate crime enhancement.

In another incident on July 5th, a transgender woman was hit by a car in what investigators are calling a gender identity bias hate crime. The woman was crossing the street after leaving a club when the suspect ran her down with his car and drove away. An 18-year-old suspect has been arrested for the hit and run. He has been charged with Aggravated Assault While Armed. Prosecutors argue the suspect used his car as a weapon justifying the charge “while armed”. The woman is in critical yet stable condition according to authorities.

After these incidents Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference to denounce these actions and reaffirmed her support of at-risk communities. She said she was working with multiple institutions to try to reduce hate based crimes in the District and to increase support for targeted groups, such as the transgender and Jewish communities. Six transgender people have been killed in Washington since 2002. Mayor Bowser stated, “[Washington D.C. is] a place of tolerance and respect, a place where every resident has a pathway to opportunity. We are a Washington that values respect, inclusivity, and diversity.” Unfortunately, taking into consideration current crime trends, it seems not everyone agrees.

No one can deny the courage of those who roam our streets sworn to protect us. Our men and women in blue put their lives on the line daily to protect our lives without a second thought of their own. However, like most institutions, the police foundation has a number of cracks in it. And none can be as volatile as this stark reality: it seems almost as easy for an officer to kill somebody, as it is for somebody to be charged with assaulting an officer. How can the police exert such force and seemingly get away with killing an innocent person while at the same time being so fragile that even the smallest of actions could lead to a charge as serious as assault of an officer? The simple answer is that it’s as complex as it is convoluted- and reality isn’t far from that.

In Washington D.C, the aspects of Assault on a Member of the Police Force is an extremely easy charge to prove for the government. Enshrined in the Code of the District of Columbia, Assault of an Officer can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. The deciding factor to determine the severity of the charge is the amount of force used or the gravity of the risk of injury to the officer in the incident. In both cases, the punishment for assaulting an officer carries heavier punishment as compared to other assault charges.

The criminal code defines Misdemeanor Assault of a Member of the Police Force as, “without justifiable and excusable cause assaults a law enforcement officer on account of, or while that law enforcement officer is engaged in the performance of his or her duties.” The maximum sentence in the District is six months in jail, or a fine of $1,000, or both.

Felony Assault of a Member of the Police Force adds the addition of significant bodily injury to the officer, or an act that would “create a grave risk” of significant bodily injury. Even creating a situation in which an officer has the potential to be hurt can constitute a felony charge of assault on an officer. The maximum sentence for the felony charge is ten years in prison, a $25,000 fine, or both.

However, the penal code adds a caveat to what defines a just and excusable cause that would legitimize the use of force against an officer. The code states, “it is neither justifiable nor excusable cause for a person to use force to resist an arrest when such an arrest is made by an individual he or she believes to be a law enforcement officer, whether or not such an arrest is lawful.” Meaning, you have no right to use force against an officer to avoid being unlawfully detained regardless of the situation or the legality of the arrest. It is this section of the law that allows the government, regardless of the situation, to justify charging anyone for assault of an officer. The law creates an environment in which any situation, regardless of the circumstances, to constitute almost any action against police officers as an assault.

During the Presidential Inauguration this past January, police arrested over 200 protestors for unlawful activity. During the protests, six officers sustained minor injuries. Of the 217 arrested, one hundred protestors were charged with misdemeanor assault of an officer. One protestor, Dane Powell, was charged with felony assault of an officer for throwing stones in the direction of officers but not actually hitting any. Police responded to protestors with force including the use of pepper spray, smoke grenades, and flash bang. Ironically, the law allows the police to use as much force as they deem necessary to fulfill their duties. So while one man is facing years in prison for throwing stones in the direction of police, officers are empowered to use whatever force they need and arrest as many as they can. However, this irony runs even deeper.

While the risk of injury can be easily prosecuted and lead to extensive jail time for civilians, officers rarely face any repercussions for any instance of extensive force they use on civilians. If you’ve watched TV in the last six years, then this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In 2011, Kelly Thomas, a mentally handicapped homeless man, was beaten by police officers for acting suspiciously. He died in the hospital five days after the incident. A jury acquitted two of the officers involved, and the government dropped the charges against another.

In 2014, Eric Garner was taken to the ground by police using a choke hold, a maneuver that is banned by the New York Police Department. Mr. Garner, who had asthma, plead with officers as they held him down that he couldn’t breath, and eventually died of suffocation. A grand jury didn’t indict any officers involved.

Also in 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by an officer. Police documents claim the police officer fired his weapon 12 times. A grand jury refused to indict.

In 2015, Walter Scott was pulled over for a traffic violation. An incident ensued, and the officer shot Mr. Scott, claiming Scott reached for his taser and the officer feared for his life. Cell phone footage was later released showing Mr. Scott running away from the officer, who shot him in the back. The officer later admitted to lying, and accepted a plea bargain in which he plead guilty to excessive force in exchange for the government dropping their murder charges.

In 2016, in a shocking incident, a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile after he was pulled over for a traffic violation. Mr. Castile’s girlfriend live steamed the incident on Facebook. The officer who killed Mr. Castile was found not guilty of second degree manslaughter.

Also in 2016, Officer Betty Jo Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher. Mr. Crutcher was unarmed. She claimed she feared for her life and stated, “I saw a threat and I used the force I felt necessary to stop a threat.”In early 2017, she was acquitted for felony manslaughter.

In all of the above instances it appears police used unnecessary and excessive force in situations in which it was not necessary. In all cases but one, the officers received no punishment for their use of excessive force and the killing innocent people. It’s chilling to realize that the intent to hurt an officer is almost guaranteed to result in an extensive jail sentence, but when an officer kills somebody they almost never suffer the consequences. Maybe it’s an issue with the law, maybe it’s an issue with police training, and maybe it’s an issue with race. It’s probably a combination of the three, plus countless others, compiled to create a situation in which the law does not apply equally to all.

There has been a recent national epidemic of reports of people in clown masks committing assaults, issuing threats, and generally “creeping out” members of the public. While most have been unsubstantiated, reports concerning clowns have been pouring into police agencies at an alarming rate.

The Initial Sightings And Reports

The first report that gained national attention came from Greenville, South Carolina. In August of this year, a group of children in Greenville told local law enforcement that clowns tried to lure them to a home deep in the forest. There were similar subsequent reports of clowns attempting to lure children into the woods in North Carolina and Georgia. In Maryland, callers reported three clowns hiding in bushes jumping out and assaulting people. In Oregon, a woman reported seeing a clown with blue painted teeth attempting to assault citizens by frightening them. In Reading, Ohio, a woman claimed to have been attacked by a knife-wielding clown, but her story was later determined to have been fabricated as an excuse for why she was late for work. In fact, the common thread in all of these clown sightings is the lack of police verification. None of these reports were ever substantiated, and no clowns were ever found.

However, the current clown hysteria is not entirely unfounded. Adding to the hysteria, or perhaps simply monopolizing on the hysteria, a number of clown-related offenses have actually been substantiated. As reported by ABC News, a woman in Ohio was verifiably assaulted by a man dressed as a clown, and the assault resulted in the closure of many area schools. A 13-year-old in Virginia was arrested for attempting to solicit an individual on social media with a clown profile picture to murder her teacher. A 14-year-old in Texas was charged with making social media terroristic threats relating to clowns. A report of an armed clown led to the evacuation of a dorm at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Four people were arrested in Georgia for threatening an abduction of children by clowns.

White House Addresses Clown Hysteria

This clown hysteria has even been addressed during a White House Briefing at the beginning of this month. Press Secretary Jay Carney told the press that the clown epidemic should be taken seriously and has resulted in more than a dozen arrests. Carney even said that local law enforcement agencies have been asking for help from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to address the clown assaults occurring across the nation.

Because of this recent assaults, Target told ABC News that it will be minimizing the availability of clown masks in their stores. Even the fast-food chain McDonald’s stated that it would be limiting its appearances of its clown mascot, Ronald McDonald, for the foreseeable future due to the increase of assaults by clowns.

Unfortunately Clown Hysteria Is Not A New Phenomenon

The collective fear of clowns – and the monopolization of this fear – is not a new phenomenon in this county. The media outlet Slate reported that reports by children of clowns attempting to lure or assault them date back to 1981, mostly without apprehension of any suspects. Even in the District of Columbia there were reports of clown crimes dating back to July 1994, in which the Seventh District police station received multiple reports of a clown trying to lure children into his van. In that case, a boy was actually abducted by November of 1994, but the police were unable to connect the abduction to the clown reports. While there have not been any current reports of clown assaults in the District, it may be only a matter of time – particularly with Halloween fast approaching.

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Assaulting a Police Officer

A trial for someone accused of assaulting a police officer usually consists of:

  1. A police officer testifying as the victim
  2. A defendant testifying in his own defense
  3. A judge making a finding of guilt or innocence

Not surprisingly, when the judge has to decide between a defendant’s word against an officer’s, the defendant usually loses. This is particularly true because step three (above) requires a judge to state on the record if he found the witness credible (as required by Superior Court Criminal Rule 23(b)). If a judge finds that an officer was not credible (truthful), that finding becomes part of the officer’s record and must be disclosed at every future trial in which the officer testifies. As the same judges see the same officers day in and day out, a judge may be reluctant to make such a finding and put that officer’s livelihood on the line.

Is the Scale Unfairly Balanced?

Basically, the odds are stacked against the defendant. This scale balance is particularly unfair because the accusation of assaulting a police officer is a serious offense that can affect a defendant’s future employment opportunities, housing opportunities, financial status, immigration status, and everything in between.

Further, the APO statute was problematic due to allegations that the charge was being used to cover up excessive use of force and civil rights violation. For example, WAMU 88.5 news conducted a study of APO charges from 2012 to 2014, and the findings included:

  • Ninety percent of those charged with APO in DC were black even though the District’s population is only made up of approximately 50% black residents.
  • Significantly more medical attention was required for those accused of APO than that required for the police officer “victims.”
  • Nearly 2/3 of those charged with APO were not charged with any other crime, which calls into question whether officers had the requisite legal justification to approach the person in the first place.

As an APO charge creates direct opposition of citizens against officers, it was detrimental to the community’s relationship with the DC police. In fact, even DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier urged changes to the APO statute.

Therefore, in practice, the APO charge often resulted in an unjust arrest, an unjust charge, an unjust trial, and community unrest.

D.C. Council Amends APO Statute

In March 2016, the D.C. Council had the support of defense attorneys, prosecutors, and the police when it made major changes to the APO statute (D.C. Code § 22-405).

First, it narrowed the assault on a police officer charge to only assault, and took out the vague and broad language that prohibited other acts such as interfering, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with officers. Second, it created an entirely new charge for resisting arrest, so that one who simply resisted would not have a detrimental “assault on a police officer” conviction on his or her record. Third, it allowed for both of these charges to be heard in front of a jury instead of a single judge.

Granting Jury Trial Rights for APO Cases is a Major Victory

Making this offense available for a jury trial is a major victory for those accused of assaulting a police officer. When a judge is making the determination of guilt (in what is called a “bench trial”), the case is being heard by someone who is highly educated, who likely lives in an affluent community, and who likely has not undergone the life experiences of many of those accused of crimes in the District. It is possible that the Judge hearing the case has never personally had a negative interaction with law enforcement or been personally unfairly targeted by law enforcement. Therefore, an implicit – and sometimes explicit – bias against the defendant can be present from the beginning of trial.

Juries, on the other hand, can include people who have had similar life experiences as the accused, who may have had negative run-ins with the police themselves, and who may be more willing than a judge to question the credibility of an officer. As explained by the United States Supreme Court, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution allows for the benefit of a jury trial because a jury “interposes between the accused and his accuser the judgment of laymen who are less tutored perhaps than a judge or panel of judges, but who, at the same time, are less likely to function or appear as but another arm of the Government that has proceeded against him.” Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66, 72 (1970).

Further, unlike a judge, the jury doesn’t have to make specific credibility findings on the record. In testimony in front of the D.C. Council in favor of the amendment, Patrice Sulton, the Chair of the Legislation Committee for the D.C. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, explained:

“[Making the offense available for a jury trial] takes the judge out of the uncomfortable position of having to make a finding that the officer’s testimony is not credible, which might impact their job later as [the judge] has to make those specific [credibility] findings.”

Therefore, a jury also eliminates the problem of necessitating an official credibility finding against the officer in order to acquit the defendant.

However, approximately six months after these changes were made, the government is trying to circumvent the will of the D.C. Council by taking away these jury trial rights for this accusation.

The Prosecution Is Taking Away the Defendant’s Right to a Jury Trial

There has been a recent influx in cases where the allegations involve the defendant assaulting a police officer, but the United States Attorney’s Office instead charges the case as a simple assault.

Simple assault carries a maximum of 180 days in jail, whereas assault on a police officer now carries a 6 months maximum. In DC, a jury trial is only available if the charge carries a maximum of 6 months or more. Therefore, as simple assault is just a few days shy of reaching that requirement, a defendant is not entitled to a jury trial on a simple assault charge.

On one hand, it is beneficial for defendants to not have an “assault on a police officer” charge on their record because it may sound worse than merely “simple assault.” However, on the other hand, by charging these cases as simple assault, the government is merely circumventing the will of the Council and is failing to address any of the concerns or rationales for the modification of the law.

Charging the cases as a “simple assault” still creates unjust results for a number of reasons. First, just because the charge changes doesn’t mean the allegation does. The police report and statement of facts are still public record, so the allegation that the defendant assaulted a police officer is still available to anyone who wishes to see it. Second, the change in the charge does not grant the defendant any additional defenses or protections than those available in an APO charge. Finally, the police officer is still testifying as the “victim,” so all of the testimony and credibility issues remain.

This amendment to the APO statute was supported by every side of the aisle. The changes were put in place to benefit the accused and the community at large, and to provide a fair prosecution. The United States Attorney’s Office’s decision to circumvent the will of the DC council is detrimental to the interest of justice.

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Transgender Woman Assaulted

Earlier this summer, in our very own Washington, DC, a transgender woman was assaulted for using the restroom in a Giant Food grocery store on H Street NE. The assailant, Francine Jones, was working as a security guard for the grocery store. Jones saw the woman, Ebony Belcher, go into the women’s restroom. Jones followed Belcher into the restroom and grabbed her. Jones called Belcher the derogatory name for a homosexual, told her “I know you’re a man,” and pushed her out of the store.

Belcher called the police. Jones was arrested and charged with simple assault (DC Code §22-404). Her case is still pending in DC Superior Court.

Jones had justified her actions by claiming that the law hasn’t passed yet allowing Belcher to use the women’s restroom.

She is wrong. The law in DC does permit Ms. Belcher to use the women’s restroom.

The Current Law In Washington DC

The District’s Human Rights Act protects transgender people from discrimination. The law specifically allows an individual to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. In fact, District of Columbia Municipal Regulation § 4-801(e) makes it unlawful for any government facility to: “[deny] access to restroom facilities and other gender specific facilities that are consistent with a person’s gender identity or expression.”

Therefore, it is against the law in DC to deny someone access to a restroom if they are a customer of the business. In fact, DC has required that all single-user bathrooms be designated as gender-neutral. Seventeen states have also adopted similar laws that protect the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity.

Other States And Their Stances

The problem is that other states have taken a different stance on the issue. Most vocally, North Carolina recently passed House Bill 2, which bans transgender people from using any bathroom other than the one that corresponds to their gender identified on their birth certificate. The bill applies to all public facilities, including schools and government buildings. States such as Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Kentucky have similarly passed laws restricting the restrooms used by transgender individuals.

Proponents of these discriminatory “Bathroom Bills” argue that the laws are necessary to protect others from sexual assault and sexual voyeurism. The rationale provided by the proponents is that rapists and sexual deviants will take advantage of the looser bathroom laws by pretending to be a transgender woman in order to sexually assault or harass women and children in the restroom.

This “bathroom predator” myth is entirely unsubstantiated. According to the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the ACLU, there have been zero reported incidences of any assaults in restrooms by men posing as transgender women. The statistics provided by the seventeen states and over two hundred cities who have passed non-discrimination laws show that there has been no increase in sexual assaults, simple assaults, or any other public safety issue since the passage of the laws.

Does The Data Support The Justification?

Therefore, the justification for these laws is entirely without basis. The one proven result from these laws is the harm that they cause for transgender people. These laws serve to instill fear and justify hate crimes against transgender individuals. They are fueled by ignorance, intolerance, and fear about the LGBTQ community. The laws and discussion irrationally and unfoundedly conflate “transgender” with “sexual predator,” thereby increasing the likelihood that transgender individuals will be subject to hate-crimes and assaults. They justify people like Francine Jones becoming vigilantes against this non-existent threat, and make transgender individuals the target of assaults and discrimination.

A survey published by the Williams Institute in 2013 found that 70% of transgender respondents in the Washington, DC area have been verbally assaulted in the restroom. In fact, 9% of the respondents reported that they had also been victims of actual physical assault. The Daily Beast reported that there has been a clear increase in reports of assaults in restrooms after North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” took center stage in the media outlets.

Dangerous Rhetoric Creating Dangerous Environment

This dangerous rhetoric can also harm individuals who simply do not conform with gender norms, who can be assaulted or harassed because they are mistaken for a man or a transgender woman. The Huffington Post reported that a cisgender (non-transgender) woman was violently thrown out of a restaurant in Detroit last year for using the women’s restroom because her physical appearance did not match societal standards of “female.”

The fact is that someone assaulting another in a restroom is always illegal, even without these discriminatory laws. If an actual sexual predator wants to assault or harass people in a restroom, the anti-transgender laws are not going to stop them. A coalition of 250 organizations who work and protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence called on politicians to stop using this harmful myth to perpetuate the discrimination against transgender people. The laws do nothing to serve and protect actual victims or actual potential victims. All they do is create another subset of victims who want to do nothing else but pee in peace.

So, just let them pee.

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A 78-year-old man was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct, and communicating threats after he punched a young protester who was being escorted out by the police at a Trump rally on March 8, 2016.

That is a lot of information at once. Let’s break that down.

Start With The Basics

First, let’s talk about the person who committed the simple assault. The aggressor is a 78-year-old white male named John McGraw, who was wearing a cowboy hat and vest at the rally. He appears to be a die-hard Trump supporter. This man watched the protestors being escorted up the stairs and out of the arena by the police. As one of the protesters passed him, McGraw punched the protester in the face without any warning or visible provocation.

After the rally, “Inside Edition,” a syndicate of CBS, interviewed McGraw. McGraw bragged to the news station about the simple assault, saying: “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.” (Seriously. He said that. And terrifyingly, he probably actually meant it.)

The day after the rally, McGraw was charged with: (1) simple assault; (2) disorderly conduct; and (3) communicating threats.

Second, let’s talk about the victim of the simple assault. The man that was assaulted was Rakeem Jones, a 26-year-old black man. He was at the rally to protest Trump’s campaign and message. As he was being escorted out, the attendees were shouting racial slurs at him and the other protestors. NBC News reported that Jones told them that the assault came out of nowhere, and left his right eye swollen and bruised. After he was sucker-punched, the police who were escorted him out surrounded Jones – not McGraw— and continued to lead Jones out of the arena.

Police Response Or Lack Thereof

Third, since we are on the subject, let’s talk about the police. The assault occurred in front of at least five sheriff deputies. Even though they were in the immediate vicinity during the attack, none of them took any action against McGraw. McGraw was permitted to enjoy the rest of the rally even after committing a blatant crime in front of the police.

The New York Times reported that five of the North Carolina deputies involved have been disciplined for their failure to take action after McGraw assaulted the protester—which solidifies the fact that the officers had a duty to step in and failed to do so. Three of the officers were suspended for five days without pay and demoted. Two of the officers were suspended for three days without pay. The North Carolina police department stated that their discipline was due to their “unsatisfactory performance and fail[ure] to discharge the duties and policies of the office of the sheriff.”

However, the fact that the police did fail to take action – and had to be disciplined – highlights the problem that is facing America today.

And that leads us to our final point of discussion: Donald Trump. This assault is but one of many that has been occurring at Trump political rallies. These tensions between protestors of Trump and supporters of Trump has become a permanent fixture during rallies – and has been mirrored by clashes between Trump’s security and journalists covering the rallies. Violence has become the new normal at these rallies to the extent that has never occurred in political campaigns prior to Trump.

A Non-Presidential Response

It is easy to track why this is occurring: Trump’s tone and rhetoric encourages aggression towards protestors (and anyone else that doesn’t see things his way). For example, during a rally on February 1, 2016, Trump stated:

There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience. So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell – I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.”

At another rally on February 23, 2016, Trump watched as a protestor was escorted out, and told the crowd:

I’d like to punch him in the face…In the old days [protestors would be] carried out in stretchers…We’re not allowed to push back anymore.”

This is a presidential candidate that is saying these things. Someone who has too much of a chance to actually run America, to be the person that is supposed to uphold our right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association – he is speaking out against those rights.

An Unexpected Response To Trump

One of the responses to Trump’s rhetoric has been:

When we have a candidate who threatens people, this is not American. This is not equal justice. This is not who we are. If we give in to our anger, if we start to go down that path and we start to listen to bullies, we lose what makes us great.”

That response was said by Glen Beck. Glen Beck – the man who has called President Obama a racist, who has threatened to kill Michael Moore, and who compared Al Gore to Adolf Hitler because of Gore’s attempts to stop global warming. THAT man has called Trump a “bully.”

Perhaps this assault by a Trump supporter is only the beginning. Perhaps we need to gear on for a full fight against this hateful, aggressive, “bully.” I mean, if he can get us to start agreeing with Glen Beck – who knows what he is capable of doing.

I fear that it may be time to start becoming very afraid.

Quickly Navigate the Page:

Most of us have heard the warning “don’t get into cars with strangers!” from the time we were very young. We were taught to scream “Stranger Danger!” if we were ever approached maliciously by an adult. The common picture of a white van with the word CANDY scrawled in marker is well-known in our society. These teachings are for a very simple reason: strangers can be dangerous.

And yet, as adults, many of us now spend a significant amount of time getting into cars with strangers when using popular applications (“apps”) like Uber and Lyft. Requesting a driver on these apps is obnoxiously simple. All you have to do is open the app, drop a pin at your current location, and push “request.” The closest driver is summoned to you and you get to watch the little car drive down the digital street to your location. You enter the non-descript cars owned by the driver, which are usually only identified as app drivers by a small sticker in the window. All you know about the driver is their first name and their driver rating. And then, you trust them with your life.

Then vs Now

A child being picked up and taken into a car by a stranger is rightly one of the biggest fears that a parent can have. The reason for this fear is simple: when you are a passenger in a car, you are completely at the driver’s mercy. Unless the passenger is willing and able to tuck-and-roll out of a moving vehicle, the passenger is not free to leave. A driver has full control over the vehicle, which means they have almost cart blanche authority to do whatever they want to you and take you wherever they wish to take you. Add this absolute power to inevitable bouts of road-rage after driving for hours on busy city streets, and the potential danger becomes very apparent.

And yet, we do not flinch at giving an absolute stranger that complete control over us. But, maybe we should.

There have been many reports of simple assaults and other crimes by Uber and Lyft drivers around the world. For example, on November 30, 2015, an Uber driver assaulted a female passenger in London when he punched her in the face because her friend had told the driver that he had made a wrong turn. Only ten days earlier, another Uber driver in Indiana punched a female passenger because he was upset that she and her friends had been late getting into the car and had changed the drop-off location after beginning the ride. In our very own Washington, D.C., a passenger was assaulted by being spat on and slapped by a driver because the passenger burped in the vehicle. Seriously.

Assault Cases Across the USA

Similar stories occur everywhere: from a passenger being assaulted with a hammer by a driver in San Francisco over a dispute regarding the route, to sexual assaults by a driver in Boston, to kidnappings being reported in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles.

Further, it is not only the actual drivers that have caused problems, but the idea of the apps themselves. We are no longer looking for bright yellow cars with the giant letters T-A-X-I painted on it. People are now used to getting into regular Hondas, Fords, and Toyotas without much thought. Not surprisingly, this has led people – likely in particularly inebriated states – to accidentally get into cars that are not associated with the app. On October 11, 2015 in Washington, DC, a woman forgot to look for the tiny square “Uber” sticker on the window, and got into a random car believing it to be an Uber driver. The woman ended up being assaulted at knife-point – simply because she was so used to getting into strangers’ cars that she didn’t think twice about getting into another one.

Technology Not Always Making the World Safer

We are in a very different world than existed in past generations. The last few decades have been defined by technological advancements that have succeeded in bringing strangers closer together. Social media, online dating apps, and the ever-pervasive websites and blogs bring together strangers who would otherwise have absolutely no affiliation with each other. We allow technology to provide us with a more efficient and diverse lifestyle and have learned to trust strangers in their opinions, their friendship, and their knowledge.

However, perhaps it would do well for us to keep in mind the mantras of our youth. That is not to say that we should not use the ride-sharing apps – as a DUI is certainly not advisable – but we should not become so reliant on technology that we completely forget our childhood lessons. The harsh truth of the matter is that sometimes it can be dangerous to get into cars with strangers.

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