Attack on 'Empire' actor puts hate crime back under spotlight

Hours after Chicago police opened a hate crime investigation Tuesday because a cast member of the television show "Empire" alleged he was attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him, LGBTQ advocates in D.C. called attention to similar, recurring issues in the District.

"An attack on one person of our community is an attack on everybody in our community," said Larry Villegas-Perez, who added that while he's saddened by the alleged attack on actor Jussie Smollett, he isn't surprised.

Villegas-Perez is the chief of staff at Casa Ruby in Northwest D.C., where he counsels victims of hate crimes.

"We have seen actually an increase in crimes against members of the LGBTQ community," he said Tuesday evening.

Numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation bear that out. Last November, the agency released statistics from 2017 showing more than 7,000 hate crimes were reported nationwide, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. Of the victims, the FBI reported that more than 50 percent were targeted because of their race and more than 15 percent were targeted because of their sexual orientation.

At Casa Ruby they believe the actual numbers, including hate crimes that are never reported, may be even higher.

"We see hate crimes continuously," said Consuella Lopez, who also works at Casa Ruby and said she has been a victim of multiple hate crimes in D.C., including violent attacks.

"It's only going to get worse if we don't put a spotlight on, or put special attention to these hate crimes that are happening towards the LGBTQ community," Lopez said when asked for potential solutions.

Villegas-Perez added, "we want community involvement, police involvement, and everybody aware, but the most important thing is respect."

Casa Ruby's website can be found here. They can be reached by phone at 202-355-5155.