Bias crimes targeted LGBTQ+, Black communities in West Orange, NJ

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Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Bias crimes targeted LGBTQ+, Black communities in West Orange, NJ
Authorities are seeking the public's help as they investigate a pair of bias crimes in West Orange, Essex County. Toni Yates has the details.

WEST ORANGE, New Jersey (WABC) -- Authorities are seeking the public's help as they investigate three bias crimes in West Orange, Essex County.

All three happened last week. The first two targeted the same business with vandalism, and the third targeted a neighboring business with a threat.

Sometime on the night of July 12th or early morning hours of July 13th, suspects smashed the glass of the front door of Harper's Café on South Valley Road.

They also smeared black paint on the storefront and defiled two Pride flags being displayed.

And the night of July 13th, someone threw a brick through the front window of the same cafe.

Cafe owner Garan Dickson said he's always let it be known that he supports the LGBTQIA+ community, but this year he added more to his Pride display: those flags.

"Something like this has no place anywhere," he told Eyewitness News, regarding the damage to his cafe.

WATCH: Prosecutor reveals details of West Orange bias crimes investigation

Around the same time the cafe's window was smashed on the night of the 13th - and maybe coincidentally - the owner of the photography studio next door received a frightening, racially biased phone call.

"Someone called me asking me why I was wearing braids," said Ambar Jimenez, "then threatening me because of my answer."

Jimenez is Dominican. She said the caller said she'd never seen her wearing braids and vowed to retaliate because she chose that hairstyle.

"That person said, 'We are going to do something to your business,'" Jimenez said. "I'm scared."

The Essex County Prosecutor's Office is investigating both incidents, suggesting it has leads in tracking down the person who damaged the cafe.

"I want to make it abundantly clear how saddened we are by these incidents," said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II, at a news conference Wednesday morning. "There's no place in this county for bias of any kind, and my office will not stand for it."

The small bit of good news here is that the community came together on Sunday to help clean up the damage at the cafe.

Meantime, the suspects remain on the loose.

Anyone with information about either crime is asked to contact West Orange Police at 973-325-4000.

Information about any bias incident in New Jersey can be reported to the New Jersey Attorney General's Office by calling 1-800-277-BIAS (2427).

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