The girl had tutoring after class that day, so she was alone as she left Alice Deal Middle School and began walking the mile to her apartment.
"Mommy," the 12-year-old said on her cellphone. "I'm on my way home."
But as the black seventh-grader turned down a quiet street in Washington, she said, she noticed a white man watching her. When he began walking her way, the girl crossed to the other side of the road. She had just ducked under the low bough of a magnolia tree when she heard something behind her.
As she turned, the man lunged at her, she recalled.
The girl fell on her back in a stranger's front yard, screaming as the man pinned her down.
"Shut the f--- up, n-----," he said, according to a police report.
The girl said she hit him in the face and kicked him in the groin. As he rolled off her, she sprinted home, sobbing.
"I thought I wasn't going to see my mom ever again," said the girl, whom The Washington Post agreed not to name because she is a child and a crime victim.
The Nov. 28 incident was one of a record 204 suspected hate crimes in the capital last year. The true number is probably higher because, experts say, many hate crimes are not reported to police. Even so, the District of Columbia has the highest rate per capita of any major city in the United States, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
As reports of hate crimes have surged across the country, much of the attention has been focused on white-supremacy-inspired mass shootings in Pittsburgh and El Paso, Texas, and an attack by an avowed neo-Nazi in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In Washington, the arrest of a self-professed white nationalist allegedly plotting with his brother to spark a race war made national headlines. Meanwhile, the reported attack on the seventh grader - two weeks later - received no media coverage. That was true of the majority of suspected hate crimes in D.C. in 2018.
The Post examined all 204 instances investigated by police as hate crimes, interviewing two dozen victims and a handful of suspects. What emerged was a portrait of pervasive bigotry and violence: gay men and women assaulted on the street, transgender people threatened by strangers, African Americans taunted with slurs, Muslims harassed for wearing headscarves, synagogues subjected to anti-Semitic calls.
Roughly half were violent crimes ranging from robbery to sexual abuse to assault, which was the most common offense.
Yet most suspected hate crimes go unpunished in D.C. Despite a push by police to identify and investigate bias-motivated incidents, there were no arrests in roughly two-thirds of the cases, The Post found. Of the adult suspects identified, just 55 faced charges of any kind. None has been convicted of a hate crime.
D.C. police say the seemingly random nature of some hate crimes can make arrests difficult, and racist or anti-Semitic graffiti can be tough to trace to a culprit. "We have a robust and comprehensive process," said Lt. Brett Parson, commander of the Special Liaison Branch, which investigates suspected hate crimes.
Jessie Liu, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement Tuesday that her office takes hate crimes "very seriously" and recently added a second coordinator to prosecute them. "We continue to work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate these cases, and with victims to pursue justice in them," she said.
The city's year of hatred began in January with a ride that descended into racist violence. It ended 12 months later in an alley, where a bisexual man was assaulted with a frying pan. In between, simmering biases boiled over on a near-daily basis. Road rage accelerated into racism. Roommates threatened to kill one another over politics. An elevator ride ended with one neighbor's hands around another's neck.
"It's always the same with you Spanish, Latin American people," one female Lyft passenger allegedly told another on Jan. 17, 2018, before punching her in the face. "You come to this country and steal from us."
Nearly half of the victims belonged to D.C.'s large LGBTQ community. There was also a surge of partisan hatred in the most political of cities as supporters of President Donald Trump were attacked and his critics received death threats.
Many people who track hate crimes see a connection between Trump's ugly political rhetoric aimed at immigrants and people of color and what has been unleashed in communities across the country.
"Look at the environment that our nation's leaders have created," said Bobbi Strang, president of D.C.'s Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. "Everywhere people are feeling empowered to say and act according to their worst impulses."
Or as Levin put it: "We are seeing a democratization of hate."
- - -
On a warm spring evening, Michael Creason and Zach Link were drinking at the Dirty Goose - a gay bar two miles from the White House - when Link decided it was time to order his friend a ride home.
It was about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 15, 2018. As the two walked hand-in-hand on the busy sidewalk toward their ride, a group of men bumped into Creason. When Link followed them and demanded to know why they had jostled his friend, the group attacked.
"You f------ f--s," one of the men said, before punching Link in the face.
As a bystander filmed on her cellphone, two men punched and kicked Link as he lay on the ground. When Creason tried to help him, a third man blindsided him with a blow to the back of the head.
"What's going on?" said the woman filming, as Link spat out his teeth and Creason lay unconscious in the street.
The video of the attack went viral. For the LGBTQ community, it was a reminder that this city of 700,000 people, often viewed as one of America's most gay-friendly, is also home to more reports of homophobic hate crimes than almost anywhere in the country.
The 61 anti-gay and 33 anti-transgender incidents investigated by D.C. police last year easily eclipse those in the 18 other big cities Levin has studied, including New York, with 8.5 million people, and Los Angeles, with 4 million.
One reason may be the sheer size of D.C.'s LGBTQ community - about 10 percent of the city's residents. Police also attribute the record number of attacks to better reporting and closer relations between law enforcement and gay and transgender residents.
Activists agree but also say the climate is worse now than it was a few years ago.
"We see the evidence in hate-crime statistics," said Strang, the gay and lesbian alliance president, "and we see the evidence in viral YouTube videos."
In 2018, a gay man was threatened in the locker room of his gym. A woman came home to find her gay pride flag smeared with feces. A lesbian was called a "d---" and body slammed by her brother, who said "if she wanted to act like a man, he would treat her like a man," according to a police report.
Rudolph Williams was dancing at a nightclub on Feb. 3, 2018, when another clubgoer asked him to move. Williams, who is openly gay, responded that he was "just listening to the music." Suddenly, he said, he was struck in the head with a wine bottle.
"I felt the warmth of the blood run down my face," he recalled, and the man who wanted him to move laughed. "He said, 'You f---- motherf-----.' That's when I knew it was deliberate," Williams said.
Transgender men and women also were frequent targets of abuse, especially those who were homeless.
In September, Kristen Laird was settling in for another night near Dupont Circle when she was approached by a man who asked whether she was a man or a woman. When Laird said she was transsexual, Mickey Crawford - who was also homeless and has a long criminal record, including a sexual assault conviction - demanded sex. When she refused, Crawford said he would come back later and rape her.
"I get harassed on a fairly consistent basis," Laird told The Post. "But this last one scared me."
A week earlier, she and her partner had been hit by a teenager wielding a bicycle helmet. Neither incident was prosecuted as a hate crime. Crawford, who pleaded guilty and said he had a drinking problem, was sentenced to 180 days' time served.
Another transgender woman at a homeless shelter downtown found a piece of paper in her locker that read: "B---- THIS WOMEN'S SHELTER LEAVE BEFORE WE KILL YOU, F-----."
Transgender people were pistol-whipped and spit upon, attacked while taking out the trash and visiting the library. In December, the National Center for Transgender Equality received three threats in less than 24 hours, including one promising to "rid the earth of scum and garbage like you."
Each incident reverberated through a tightknit community still reeling from the death of Deeniquia "Dee Dee" Dodds, a transgender woman who was killed during a 2016 armed robbery.
After the attack on the hand-holding men, Creason woke up in a hospital bed with no memory of the incident. Then someone sent him the video.
"It's not a fun experience to see yourself dropped like a rag doll in the middle of the street," Creason told The Post. He sent the video to the police, who released images of the suspects, along with a plea for relevant information.
None came. The attack is one of 128 suspected hate crimes that remain unsolved.
- - -
On a Saturday morning in October, a man with an assault rifle walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire, shouting "All Jews must die." By the time he was arrested, 11 people were dead.
Two days later, before the victims of America's deadliest anti-Semitic attack had been buried, the phone rang at the Washington Hebrew Congregation.
"I'm so glad that 11 people died at the other temple," the caller told a receptionist. "I wanted you to know."
Anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise across the country. In Washington, the call on Oct. 29, 2018, was one of 17 suspected anti-Semitic hate crimes last year, according to The Post's analysis of police reports.
Most of those involved swastikas scrawled in visible locations: a store window, a mailbox, the girls' bathroom at an elite private high school. One man walked out of his house on a wintry morning to find the Nazi symbol freshly drawn in the frost.
Police also investigated reports of seven anti-Muslim incidents - up from two in 2017 - and one anti-Hindu incident, The Post found.
In October, a man came to the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and started yelling, "I hate Muslims," according to a police report. When asked to leave, he made a throat-cutting gesture at a receptionist.
A deaf student at Gallaudet University reported being stalked for months online by a man who mocked her for being Muslim and told her "Trump is going to kill you."
"I blocked him again and again, but he kept coming back every time, making new Instagram accounts," the student told The Post via a sign-language interpreter. "He was constantly messaging me, every day, 10 to 15 times."
The Post generally does not identify the victims of crimes without their permission. The student, who did not want to be named, said she had grown up in New York City, where she had been threatened with a gun after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But nothing had shaken her like her Instagram stalker.
"Anytime I go outside, I feel like I'm constantly looking behind my back," she said. "Being Muslim and deaf, I feel like I can't trust anyone."
Sarah Amer, a Palestinian American, was driving to work in Washington in June 2018 when she spotted a woman panhandling on the side of road. As Amer rolled down her window to give her money, the woman noticed Amer's hijab.
"You f------ terrorist," the woman screamed, according to Amer. "Go back to your country."
Then the woman began hitting Amer's car with a shoe.
Amer drove away and reported what happened to the police. But that incident and others she has endured cut deep for the Air Force and Peace Corps veteran. She recently stopped wearing her hijab, a decision that led some family members and friends to question her faith.
"After years of abuse - mental, emotional and physical - now I'm in the clear," she said. "If this brings judgment, it's between me and God."
There was no such option for the synagogues that started receiving threats in March 2018. The first target was Tifereth Israel Congregation. Then a male caller threatened to sexually assault a female employee at the National Synagogue across the street.
In October, after the deadly attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Washington Hebrew Congregation received a flurry of voice mails that said: "Go [to] hell Jew," "Hitler's trash" and "F--- your Torah," according to court records.
The calls stopped in November with the arrest of a mentally troubled man named Yohanes Lemma.
Lemma is no white supremacist. This spring, the Ethiopian immigrant welcomed a reporter into his small apartment, full of plastic flowers and photos of his wife, in the D.C. suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland. As his 4-year-old son watched videos on a cellphone and ate ice cream, Lemma described moving to the United States in 2006 after winning the green-card lottery.
A devout Christian and now a U.S. citizen, Lemma said he never had a problem with Jews in Ethiopia. But a few years ago, he said, he began to feel a strange sensation in the back of his head.
"I feel the Jewish people attack me and my son," he said.
Lemma admitted to leaving the threatening messages, including the call he made two days after the Pittsburgh massacre.
"I made a mistake," he said. "I didn't know this was a crime, because I am a foreigner."
A few weeks after speaking to The Post, Lemma pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor stalking - not a hate crime - and on May 3 received a suspended sentence of 365 days and five years' probation, which includes mental health screening.
But Lemma also told The Post that he still thought his family was somehow under attack from Jews, adding that next time, instead of threatening synagogues, "maybe I will go to the police station."
- - -
The man was watching his friend Tucker Carlson on TV, texting the conservative talk show host during commercial breaks, when he heard a bang.
As Carlson railed against a migrant caravan, the man walked to the front of his townhouse, where he could hear someone shouting. When he looked outside, he said, he saw about half a dozen people pelting his home with rocks.
As he dialed 911, the glass door suddenly shattered.
The rock had "F--- TRUMP" written on it.
"This has been nonstop," said the man, a GOP donor and Trump family friend whom The Post agreed not to name because he was the victim of a crime.
"I am probably going to have to move out of D.C.," he said. "I'm not safe."
The incident in mid-November was one of 10 politically fueled hate-crime reports last year, according to D.C. police. Washington is one of the few cities in the country that counts political affiliation as a basis for hate crimes.
Victims include the famous and the ordinary, conservatives and liberals.
In March 2018, a preschool teacher was waiting in line at a taco restaurant when she interrupted two women as they criticized the president.
"I support Donald Trump," said the teacher, who said she still fears for her safety and asked not to be named. As an argument erupted, the teacher began filming on her phone. Seconds later, the two women attacked her, breaking her finger and bursting a blood vessel in her eye, she said. Her video of the assault went viral as conservative websites cited it as an example of liberal intolerance.
A year later, the teacher told The Post that she is still paying off her hospital bills and seeing a therapist.
A Latina, she said she voted for Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton in 2016, before taking a shine to Trump after the election. But she said the attack - committed by two black women who were not apprehended - had left her wary of African Americans.
"I'm dealing with a lot of trauma and anger," she said. "If I see a group of people who are black, it's like I can't say anything anymore because it's like they are going to attack me."
"I don't want to think that way," she said.
Most of the reported incidents came within a month or so of the midterm election. Only one has led to an arrest, police records show.
On Oct. 26, a letter arrived at the D.C. office of Gara LaMarche, president of the liberal Democracy Alliance.
"I know who you are, what you look like, where you work, where you live, and what you drive," the letter said, according to a police report. "I'm an ex-Army Ranger who has access to classified information about everyone in this country. . . . So, I think I'll pay you a visit soon. What do you think will happen then? Trust me - it will be the worst day in your life!"
"This was the same week pipe bombs were being sent to people" around the country, LaMarche told The Post. "The atmosphere was kind of unnerving."
Carlson himself was the target of another politically motivated incident, police said.
Protesters calling themselves "Smash Racism D.C." gathered outside his house the night after the midterm election to denounce his harsh anti-immigration rhetoric. Carlson wasn't home, but his wife was. As she locked herself in the pantry and called 911, a protester with a bullhorn criticized the host for "promoting hate."
"We want you to know, we know where you sleep at night," the person said.
Carlson's friend, the GOP donor, said police didn't take it seriously when his back door was smashed a week later. They ignored surveillance footage and dismissed the idea of dusting the rock for fingerprints, he said. After he offered to turn the rock over to federal law enforcement agents, the police changed their minds, he said. Police later told him the rock was too porous to test.
D.C. police said they investigated the case thoroughly, including the rock and surveillance video, but could not identify the culprits.
After the incident, the donor said, more glass was broken, patio furniture was tipped over, sandwiches were thrown at his windows, and sushi was left to rot on his grill. He didn't call police again.
"It's not like they said, 'Stop bothering us,' " he said. "But I got the sense that they thought they had bigger things to deal with."
Not long ago, he moved.
- - -
It wasn't until later - after the police interviews - that the black middle schooler had time to think about the slur she said her white attacker had shouted as he pinned her to the ground. She had heard the word before growing up in D.C. But never like that, she said, never so full of hate and menace.
At least a dozen times last year, African Americans were called the n-word during suspected hate crimes in D.C.
One man heard it as he was spit upon; another as he was attacked with a bicycle lock; a third as he was driving, when a man in a pickup truck next to him shouted it while brandishing a handgun, according to police reports.
In April 2018, a woman visiting a once-segregated swimming pool - built for blacks in 1934 - returned to her car to find her tires and seats slashed and "N-----" scrawled on the hood.
There were 75 suspected hate crimes in 2018 motivated by race or ethnicity, up from 65 in 2017, The Post found: 26 against African Americans, 24 against Hispanics, 15 against whites, six against Asians, three against people perceived to be of Arab descent and one against all nonwhites. (The Post sometimes classified the type of suspected hate crime differently than D.C. police did and counted the incidents by the year in which they occurred.)
The reports reflected an increasingly diverse city where many neighborhoods are changing, but where many prejudices persist.
An Indian woman was spat upon in a Chinese restaurant by the director of a Polish American cultural organization, according to one police report. Two Asian women were allegedly attacked on separate occasions while shopping. A woman became angry at employees at a Popeyes chicken restaurant for speaking Spanish and began throwing things at them.
Occasionally, the suspects' language echoed that of Trump.
A Latina told police that a stranger grabbed her buttocks near the National Mall, then told her to "get out of the U.S." and "go back to her country." Two Hispanic men were approached late one night by two strangers who called them "MS-13," a reference to the gang, before punching and kicking them, according to a police report.
The day after the midterm election, a Hispanic woman was crossing the street when the driver of a car told her to "Go back to Mexico," according to another report. The woman then told the motorist, who was black, to "Go back to Africa," prompting him to get out of his car and punch her in the mouth.
For the seventh grader, the racist attack during her walk home from school in November deeply shook the girl, who had only recently moved to the neighborhood.
"The first three nights, she woke me up, screaming," her mother said. "She dreamed that the man was following her again, or that he was in our house."
The girl said she initially distanced herself from white friends. She told only one classmate about the incident.
"I don't want people to think I'm looking for attention," she said.
A week after she and her mother reported the attack, police suspended their investigation.
"There was no video recovered that would have assisted this case," police said in a statement. "Cases are suspended when the detective [has] exhausted all leads."
The girl, now 13, said what happened has shaken her faith in adults, white people and the police.
"I feel like the detective thought I was lying," she said. "I'm not going to lie about something that traumatic."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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