For racial harassment, you can always go… downtown

by Jordan Green

When Erin Muldoon, a 25-year-old bartender at Jake’s Billiards, and her 29-year-old boyfriend Wesley Reid strolled down South Elm Street through the Hamburger Square area on a recent Sunday afternoon, they saw no reason to fear for their safety.

So they were surprised when a van slowed as it neared them and they heard men from within shouting angry obscenities. Brian Howlett, the manager on duty across the street at Natty Greene’s brewpub, also saw the van and heard the shouting.

‘“They were shouting epithets; I couldn’t understand all of it,’” Muldoon said. ‘“We shouted back at them, to tell you the truth. They pulled over and jumped out and surrounded my boyfriend. They dragged him to the ground and punched him and kicked him. I tried to grab one of them and pull him off, and he pulled his arm back and punched me in the face.’”

As soon as he saw the assault Howlett said he flipped open his cell phone and dialed 911, and ran outside. By the time he had the dispatcher on the line, Greensboro Police Officer Heather Gregory had already arrived on the scene, he said.

‘“The van was only two vehicles away when the cop arrived,’” Muldoon said. ‘“The guys got in their van and drove away. The manager was like, ‘There’s a cop; go follow these people.’ She thought me and my boyfriend got in a fight because we were picking our things up off the sidewalk. I had thought to memorize the van’s license plate. I kept shouting the license plate to her and she got in her vehicle and followed it.’”

The men were strangers to the couple, Muldoon said, so the only motive she can think of is race. The three men appeared to be black, she said. One of Muldoon’s parents is white and the other black, but most people wouldn’t suspect she’s the product of a mixed-race union because, as she puts it, ‘“I’m very dark.’” Reid, her boyfriend, is white.

‘“You see a white guy and a black girl walking down the street holding hands and three black guys attack ‘— yeah, I think it was racially motivated,’” Howlett said.

The Natty Greene’s manager said he’s never witnessed crime take place downtown before, certainly not a brazen attack in the middle of the day. In fact, the consensus on downtown has been pretty bullish lately. On the same day of the attack, Nov. 6, the featured article in the News & Record’s ‘“Ideas’” section read, ‘“Upbeat about downtown,’” and included a panel discussion with Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Ray Gibbs, former Mayor Jim Melvin, a local developer, an architect and a professional-class resident about the area’s continuing resurgence.

‘“I feel like if three skinheads got out of the car and punched me and my boyfriend in the face, it would have been on the front page of the newspaper,’” Muldoon said. ‘“I got assaulted in broad daylight and nobody does anything about it.’”

She said she felt frustrated that the police officer didn’t interview witnesses other than Howlett to gather evidence for a criminal prosecution, and that during her first pass through the Guilford County Courthouse the magistrate on duty declined to press charges.

‘“I got punched in the face by a grown man and I never cried,’” Muldoon said. ‘“I go downtown and interact with the judicial system and I’m bawling my eyes out. The justice system is where I feel victimized.’”

Muldoon said Gregory stopped the van and interviewed the suspects. The police officer took down their names ‘— 38-year-old twin brothers Eddie and Jimmie Davis, and another brother, Dwayne ‘— and passed them along to Muldoon. But the names and the Howlett’s testimony as a witness weren’t initially enough to persuade a magistrate to press charges.

‘“I don’t remember the particulars, so I wouldn’t want to discuss it,’” said Magistrate JA Williams on Nov. 10. ‘“If I didn’t do it it’s because I didn’t have the information to do it.’”

After a second visit, Muldoon said Williams changed his tune and agreed to file charges.

Following their assault, Muldoon and Reid went home to take pictures of their injuries. Reid had a black eye and swelling on his eyebrow and Muldoon had a scrape on her elbow, she said. Then they went to PrimeCare, but when they arrived around 5:30 p.m. the X-ray machine had broken down and Reid’s swelling had gone down so they left without getting him any medical attention.

Lt. Brian James, public information officer for the Greensboro Police Department, said arrests would have been warranted had the victims suffered more severe injuries or had the alleged attackers refused to give their names to the police.

‘“A misdemeanor assault that occurs outside of our presence is not enforceable unless we believe the person will flee and avoid any prosecution,’” James said. ‘“If we are able to identify the person we relay that identity to the person [who was attacked] so that she can take out a warrant at the magistrate’s office.

‘“If they had to go to the hospital, then that would have raised the level of action,’” he added. ‘“If there’s a scratch on your elbow that may not qualify as a felony. But if you’ve got a busted lip that raises the potential.’”

Muldoon said she called Sgt. David Morgan, Officer Gregory’s supervisor, to express her concerns about the justice system’s handling of her case. Morgan told her it was unlikely the attack could be prosecuted as a hate crime since she couldn’t tell what the assailants were saying.

‘“Unless they say a specific thing like, ‘Yo cracker, you’re dating a black girl”… he basically calls it a bigotry matter,’” she said. ‘“They actually went to the guys and said they made a statement that said my boyfriend threw up his hands and said, ‘F*** you, n***er.’ It’s still assault, but he said it’s highly unlikely that a judge would convict someone for a hate crime in this case.’”

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