There is no shortage of crime stories — Wanda Alston, Marion Barry, David Rosenbaum — in the nation’s capital. But for every high-profile incident, there must be scores of violent crimes that fly under the radar. Like the attack Chuck Johnson suffered in mid December.
As Johnson and his partner, J.P. Singh, tell it, their night began on a festive note. Decked out in appropriate attire, they danced into the wee hours of Sunday, Dec. 11, at the White Party at VelvetNation. Having worked up an appetite, the couple decided to stop for bite at Pizza Mart, 2445 18th St. NW, a stone’s throw from their home near U and 18th streets near the heart of Adams Morgan.
”We were toward the back of the store,” Johnson recalls, explaining that about 10 people were in line in front of them. ”One guy walked in behind us and started pushing. My attention was on him. One guy in the front of the line seemed to know him.
”Johnson, apparently irritated by this newcomer’s push to the front, pointed out that he and his partner marked the end of the line. The newcomer countered, with seeming sarcasm, that he was joining his ”boyfriend” at the front of the line. Two men at the front indeed knew the newcomer. And this insignificant discourse at the back of the line is all it took for one of them to take a swing at Johnson.
”I have a blank spot in my mind from when I got hit,” says Johnson. Singh, however, remembers it all with a fair amount of clarity.
”The only word I remember is ‘faggot,”’ says Singh of what the assailant said after landing the punch that would lead to a month-long recovery for Johnson. ”Chuck didn’t make a sound. He just dangled in midair then fell. His head hit the floor. I started calling for someone to call 911. But all I heard was, ‘Who’s next?”’ Singh says no one would respond to him.
”These guys got their pizza,” Singh continues, adding that as they left one of them asked if he’d like his head ”bashed-in” as well. ”I’m just flabbergasted by the employees at Pizza Mart, that they would continue to serve pizza…. If people were going to help, they were going to wait for these three to leave.”
Johnson and Singh described the three: The assailant, they say, was a white male, about 5 feet, 10 inches; about 210 pounds; short, straight black hair. The man who entered the store last, pushing at the back of the line, was black, of roughly the same height and weight. The third, who said and did little during the incident, was a white male, with somewhat slighter stature than the other two. They described all three as ”mid 20s, clean-cut, football player types.” And though Johnson and Singh say their club-wear would’ve probably led the trio to guess that they were gay, they don’t look like easy targets. Each man stands over 6-feet tall. Johnson, a 32-year-old environmental-policy specialist, is also a member of the D.C. Cowboys, known for their athletic dance moves. Singh, a professor at Georgetown University, is 44.
Within five minutes or so, Johnson came to, and Singh walked him to the sidewalk. Outside, says Singh, one woman was already on her cell phone trying to explain to a 911 operator where the Pizza Mart was located.
”I was angry at that point that she had to give directions to 911,” says Singh. ”We sat there for another two-to-three minutes and she was still trying to explain where Pizza Mart was. Chuck’s cheek had swollen. And he’d fallen on his head, so I was afraid of a concussion.
”I put Chuck in the Jeep,” continues Singh, adding that all the while the unknown woman kept trying to give directions to the 911 operator.
”There was a guy who tried to help us by asking for ice. The guy at the counter said, ‘We don’t have any ice.’ There was a cooler on the side of the store, so he took a soft drink to put on Chuck’s face.”
Singh decided that he’d have better luck taking Johnson to an emergency room himself rather than waiting for the 911 operator to dispatch an ambulance. Singh’s frustration with 911 and Pizza Mart was compounded by his frustration with a police officer at the George Washington University Hospital emergency room.
”He worked in Ward 1 and said we needed to file the report with a Ward 2 officer. He was courteous about it, but he said we had to go to Ward 2. So we assumed that’s how things are done. [After Johnson was treated] we went to the police station. The first thing [the officer in Ward 2] said to us was that he lied.
”Adds Johnson, who was fully conscious by this time: ”She told me in no uncertain terms that any officer in the district can take a report. She was amazed that the officer did not take a report.
”The frustration the couple encountered over the course of their odyssey is surpassed by Johnson’s pain. The punch caused a fracture in the area of Johnson’s maxillary sinus, which runs from below the eye to above the lip.
”This guy clocked me pretty good,” says Johnson. ”The whole left side of my face was extremely swollen for a week. … And I had a black eye for another couple weeks. I’ve taken two rounds of antibiotics. It’s been a nasty recovery.
”Today, both Johnson and Singh say they don’t expect the assailant to be identified. And despite the use of the word ”faggot” during the attack, neither man says he’s convinced this attack would classify as a hate crime, nor are they pressing for it to be registered as such.
”It wasn’t a blatant gay bashing,” says Johnson. ”Obviously they identified us as together, as gay, to the extent that they yelled a pejorative at my partner. I’m willing to chalk the whole thing up to drunken idiots in Adams Morgan.
”A mutual friend, however, did notify gay online activist John Aravosis, telling him the story of the couple’s experience. Aravosis notified several city leaders, including openly gay City Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
”We cannot, and will not, tolerate this type of behavior,” Graham wrote in a Jan. 11 e-mail to the police. ”Increased police presence late night in Adams Morgan is an obvious answer to some of this…. I have introduced legislation to use surplus funds to strengthen neighborhood policing.”
What Johnson and Singh said they would like to happen is an improvement in 911 and police responses to such crimes, as well as installation of security cameras in Adams Morgan businesses that are open after 2 a.m. Chris Christi, a manager at Pizza Mart, says his store has such cameras to monitor the register. Unfortunately, Johnson and Singh did not ask for the tape that may have identified the attacker at the time, as they were scheduled to leave the country shortly after the attack. Christi reckons that the Dec. 10-11 tape has already been erased. He adds that whoever was working at Pizza Mart during the attack may not have understood the request for help due to a language barrier, adding that employees are instructed to phone 911 if they witness an altercation either inside or outside of Pizza Mart.
Singh isn’t buying Christi’s argument that something may have been lost in translation. But neither he nor Johnson are pushing the issue at this point.
”I don’t think they’ll find this person. I’m not terribly worried about that,” says Johnson. ”I’m not going to run around with my hands in the air screaming ‘hate crime’ about this.”