YAZZMEN MORSE, a 21-year-old District resident, and four friends were walking toward the Columbia Heights Metro station in the wee hours of July 30 when two men approached and tried to “flirt” with them. One of the women said she was “not interested” and pointed out that Ms. Morse was her girlfriend.
“I will kick that dyke bitch’s ass,” one man threatened, according to a police report.
One man punched Ms. Morse several times in the head and face, the report notes. Three of the other women were also struck before police arrived. According to the victims’ account, as many as seven D.C. police officers showed up, but they refused to take action or to file a report, even as one suspect continued to scream epithets at the women.
“I was crying hysterically, my eye was almost closed — swollen — and I was asking the officers, ‘Can you please make a report?’ ” Ms. Morse told The Post’s June Q. Wu. “They just told us if we didn’t calm down, they would lock us up for being disorderly or something.”
It was only after Ms. Morse’s mother spoke with someone from the police department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit days later that the department formally logged the women’s complaint. On Aug. 9, 19-year-old Christian Washington of Northwest D.C. was charged with assault; the investigation is ongoing.
The case first came to light in news reports in the area’s gay press. In response, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier issued an Aug. 5 statement saying that she was “appalled” by the incident and that she had ordered an internal investigation that could result in dismissals of police officers if the women’s account proved true. She later told members of the advocacy group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence that she attributed the officers’ actions to “lazy policing.” Perhaps, but the chief should not blind herself: Lazy policing can be a symptom of a deeper problem.
The department should determine whether the officers’ apathy had anything to do with the fact that all of the women were young and African American and that at least two identified themselves as gay. If so, the women were victimized twice: once by whoever delivered physical blows and again by officers who are sworn to serve and protect but who failed to extend the kind of respect due to all victims of crime.
Chief Lanier recently reorganized and decentralized the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, which was created in 2000 to repair the police department’s damaged relationship with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered D.C. residents. Some advocates worry that the chief’s changes have weakened the unit. The city needs a robust liaison office as much as ever. Most important, Chief Lanier and other department leaders must articulate to officers throughout the city that discrimination will not be tolerated — and that it will have consequences.