Employees and security personnel at a Queens restaurant allegedly stood by and watched as a group of customers attacked two diners on the basis of their sexual orientation earlier this month. At a press conference Make the Road convened outside Pollos Mario in Jackson Heights on Tuesday, Alberto Cruz and Daniel Dominguez said the assault left them traumatized and frightened.
"This was a really awful experience that I don’t wish on anybody else," Dominguez told reporters. "I’m here to demand that this type of violence ends now."
The pair had sat down to a late-night meal on September 12th (around 4:30 a.m., according to the NYPD), when they say a group of inebriated customers came in and started hurling homophobic insults at them. They tried to get one of the restaurant's security guards to intervene, but the guard allegedly advised them to "just finish eating and go." But then someone in the group began beating Dominguez, hitting him until he fell unconscious before they turned their attention to Cruz. The police were called, and the pair filed a report. They were taken to Elmhurst hospital for treatment of their injuries.
An NYPD spokesperson confirmed to Gothamist that the attack involved about six other patrons, who shouted anti-gay slurs at Cruz and Dominguez. No arrests have been made.
Tuesday's press conference drew representatives from Make the Road, in addition to community advocates — Chanel Lopez from the NYC Commission on Human Rights; Pilar Maria Dominguez of the NYC Anti-Violence Project — and government officials, including Deborah Lauter, executive director of the new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz.
"I am distraught that I have to be here," Cruz told the crowd. "Protecting our LGBTQI community needs to be an everyday job for all of us — not just for our neighbors, but for our business neighbors.
"You want our money in your establishment," Cruz continued, "you're going to want to step up and you're going to want to protect people in our communities."
No manager was on hand to field Gothamist's calls on Tuesday or Wednesday, and our emails to Pollos Mario also went unanswered. Speaking to CBS New York, however, a Pollos Mario employee said "the manager tried to stop the fight multiple times."
"You guys are not getting the whole story and I think it will come out,” Jackeline Franco continued. “You cannot start something and then victimize yourself for it."
Cruz and Dominguez said otherwise: "Everything happened so fast from one minute to another we were surrounded by all of them. They hit me first. They hit me with a bottle or glass,” Dominguz told CBS. Cruz added that "five people" gathering around the table felt intimidating, because "obviously they're going to do something."
Both sides reportedly have video of the altercation.
Home to a growing LGBTQ community, Jackson Heights has nonetheless seen a number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in recent months: Over the summer, two trans women were pepper sprayed in the neighborhood, and last year, two gay men alleged that the owner of a tattoo shop unleashed a torrent of homophobic slurs on them before physically assaulting them outside the store. Although overall crime rates have dropped in the past year, hate crime rates rose 64 percent in NYC between 2018 and 2019, and as of early June, roughly 10 percent of the 184 reported bias incidents targeted members of local LGBTQ communities, according to city officials.
Additional reporting by Charline Charles.