Recent crimes committed in the uptown area of Hillcrest, a neighborhood known around the nation for its LGBTQ community, brought together community leaders, residents and supporters Wednesday night for the so-called Hillcrest Strong Town Hall.
Law enforcement leaders used the town hall as an opportunity to ensure the community a bolstered defense would be brought in the wake of the crimes, while community leaders called for unification in the face of apparent hate and discrimination.
The most recent and most damaging incident happened last Tuesday evening, Feb. 12, when a lone gunman unloaded nearly 20 bullets into the Golden Dragon Asian Bistro on University Avenue while customers and employees were inside.
Investigators have yet to determine the shooting a hate crime, but police say the alleged gunman made “disturbing” social media posts in the days prior.
No one was injured in the shooting and the suspect remains in police custody.
“Hate has no place, this kind of crime has no place in San Diego. I have confidence that all justice will be brought to bear [for the man accused of shooting at the restaurant],” San Diego Chief of Police David Nisleit said.
Nisleit said he has ordered increased patrols in the Hillcrest neighborhood with uniformed and non-uniformed police officers, and praised the bravery of the community after a flood of descriptive 911 calls came in letting police know what the suspect looked like and where he was going following the shooting.
The week before the shooting, a vandal took a sharp object and scratched multiple plaques on an LGBTQ pride monument. The monument serves as the base that steadies a pride flag pole at the intersection of University Avenue and Normal Street.
Two pictures on two of the plaques near the base of the monument were scratched and gashed. One shows the original local LGBT center, the other portrays activists lifting the pride flag.
Nisleit said increased patrols will take place in the area “for a while” in an effort to bring calm back to the community.
“When I look at crime I also look at fear of crime, and that’s what I want to drive down. I want to make sure everyone is comfortable walking about the community and doing what they want because, after all, that’s what we all strive for and that’s what, as Chief of Police, what I strive for. To make certain that all of you feel comfortable in your community, that you feel comfortable walking to the local restaurant, the local pub, the local business, and you’re able to talk with your neighbors and friends and loved ones because that’s what San Diego is about,” Nisleit said.
Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan called San Diego “trouble for trouble,” meaning the city’s law enforcement is adept at preventing and stopping threats and keeping the community safe.
“I’ve been all around the country… and you never see this lineup of federal, state and local law enforcement here, engaged to protect the community,” Stephan said.
Stephan said hate crimes differ from other types of crime because they can cause moral and spiritual damages to entire communities and, in some cases, can make victims not want to report them out of shame or embarrassment.
“That’s something that we are removing in this community and are going to continue to remove, because reporting every incident no matter how small is critical,” she said.
San Diego City Councilmember Chris Ward, the representative for Hillcrest, said there are more than a dozen community activists walking the streets of the neighborhood every day as part of the Connect Hillcrest initiative.
He also praised local businesses like Crest Café and Tacos Libertad who have run campaigns to raise funds for the repair of the pride monument defaced last week.