There have been 11 violent attacks and robberies over the past two months in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas. It's home to a popular LGBT entertainment district, but police don’t believe the incidents are related. For some victims, one of the hardest feats has been opening up about their attacks.
On Oct. 2, Michael Dominguez met some friends at Station Four, a popular gay bar in Oak Lawn on the corner of Reagan Street and Cedar Springs. He had to catch a plane the next morning, so he called it a night around 1 a.m.
“And I remember walking down the stairs. I knew the guy that was working the door and I sort of waved at him and said bye,” he said.
Then everything went black. He woke up four to five hours later, surrounded by doctors in a trauma unit. The back of his head and his eye socket were fractured; he was stabbed in the neck and in the side of the body; and there were defensive lacerations on his arm, which were probably from trying to fight off the attacker.
Doctors say he was lucky. Had the knife been a few centimeters forward in his neck or a few centimeters deeper in his torso, he could’ve died. Dominguez doesn’t remember anything about that night -- except leaving the bar. He said, in a strange way, he feels fortunate to have no memory of the attack. He can’t relive it. Though, he said the lost memory has been frustrating.
“I can’t help the police in this. I can’t offer what was said. I can’t offer a reason. I can’t offer a description,” Dominguez said. “Nothing. It’s almost as if I wasn’t there.”
The attack on Dominguez was the second in a spate of assaults that began in mid-September. The latest happened almost two weeks ago, when two men were attacked separately. Both reported anti-gay slurs. The incidents happened a few hours after the “Light Up Oak Lawn” March, which was meant to raise awareness about needed safety improvements in the neighborhood.
Police say they’re not sure these attacks qualify as hate crimes. So far, they’ve only used the label once -- after a man was beaten and robbed in late September after he left the Dallas Pride Festival.
Today, a patrol car sits in the parking lot of the Resource Center, a local LGBT service organization. CEO Cece Cox said neighbors are on edge.
“This can be a vulnerable area with a vulnerable population, and if somebody wants to do harm and come from outside the LGBT community, they know they can find a high concentration of people here -- people are out late, it’s not the best-lit place in town -- they can come here and cause harm. It’s not that difficult to do,” Cox said.
Oak Lawn’s history is proof of that. Cox says there’s fear and distrust among the LGBT community, dating all the way back to the late-70s, early-80s.
“Police were actually arresting people who were coming out of bars or taking down license plate numbers of patrons who were going into bars and colluding with reporters, and people's names were showing up the next day in the Dallas Times Herald. They were essentially outing people.” Cox said. “It adds to a history of our community sometimes being hesitant to want to engage in a proactive way with law enforcement.”
Police say they’re aware of that history, but are working hard to reach out to Oak Lawn residents and keep an open line of communication.
“There is an initial need for you to call 911, for you to get the report down and get started on the offense,” said Deputy Chief Catrina Shead. “But in the long term, it helps us as an agency and as a city to reallocate resources based on need. If we don’t have those offenses or those crimes reported, then it doesn’t look like we need additional resources.”
Now, there are more patrols in the neighborhood, including undercover officers. Crime Stoppers has put up a $5,000 reward for an arrest and indictment of any suspects. Council Member Adam Medrano is pushing to spend a $500,000 city bond on installing police cameras and better street lights.
Michael Dominguez, for one, won’t let the attack change his life. This is still his neighborhood, after all. He’s worried, though, about what the last two months have revealed about the community.
“There are deficiencies in how we take care of each other, how callous we’ve become to responding to certain things. I’ve heard that people don’t feel safe. I’ve heard some people don’t even know what’s going on in their own backyard,” Dominguez said. “I think we have a responsibility to make sure that it stays a safe haven.”
Dominguez has started an LGBT support group called SOS -- Survivors Offering Support. It provides group therapy, financial assistance and other resources. For Dominguez, this effort is his way of working through what could be a dark time.