This story originally misidentified the relationship of Ellen Ralph to the Walgreens store. The story has been corrected.
Tulsa police are investigating a possible hate crime after a 23-year-old Hispanic man reportedly was assaulted and barraged with racial and homophobic slurs during a routine stop at a midtown drugstore on Sunday.
Jose Vega said he was standing next to a register at the Walgreens at 15th Street and Lewis Avenue about 8:45 a.m., waiting to buy some medication, when a man tapped his shoulder and accused him of cutting in front of him in line.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you,’ ” Vega told the Tulsa World. “He was like, ‘You didn’t see me walk by?’ I said I didn’t and I was sorry. So I moved, and he got in front of me.”
Another cashier became available, and the man moved to the newly opened register. Vega said he then heard the man tell a woman he was with that he was going to wait outside.
When Vega finished his purchase and headed to the parking lot, he noticed that the man was leaning on his own vehicle, which was parked next to Vega’s.
“When I walked out, he said, ‘You fu--ing Mexican, if you ever pull that s- — again, I’m going to f- — you up,” Vega said. During the outburst, the man kept his left hand inside his waistband as if he was holding a gun under his shirt, although Vega said he never saw a firearm.
The man continued his tirade and began spitting and yelling homophobic slurs at Vega, who was wearing an Oklahomans for Equality T-shirt featuring a rainbow image and the words, “The Revolution Continues.”
Vega said he looked down and ignored the insults while walking to his car.
“He starts hitting my window and still continuing cussing me out, saying ‘Fu---ing Mexican, go back to Mexico. Fu--ing fa----, die of AIDS.’ All that stuff.”
Vega put his car in reverse and tried to pull out of the parking lot, but the man kicked his side mirror, breaking it. Vega said he stopped the car and grabbed his phone in an attempt to record the attack, but the assailant opened his door.
“I’m thinking that he’s going to beat me up in my car or kill me,” Vega said.
He said he pushed the door as it opened and jumped out of the car. The man then punched him in the back and in the arm, he said.
After throwing several punches, the man jumped on the trunk of his own car in an apparent attempt to cover his license plate number as a woman in the driver’s seat sped away. Vega managed to snap a photo of the getaway.
The assailant eventually got inside the vehicle, which headed north. Vega then called 911 and filed a police report. He said there were some witnesses who watched the incident play out but that they left before officers arrived.
Police spokesman Leland Ashley said the case would be assigned to an investigator, who will determine whether the attack should be presented to prosecutors as a hate crime, which carries an enhanced sentence.
Oklahoma statute states that hate crimes are classified by “malicious harassment based on race, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability.”
Assaults involving sexual orientation are not included in Oklahoma’s hate crimes law. Because the man who attacked Vega made comments concerning the victim’s ethnicity, the attack might still be considered a hate crime, Ashley said.
“It’s sad for that not to be considered a hate crime (based on sexual orientation)...” Vega said. “It’s sad that only half of who I identify as is protected. I identify as a gay Hispanic young professional. To have just only half of who I am be protected by a hate crime (law), that’s really sad for the state of Oklahoma.”
As the program director at Oklahomans for Equality — an organization that seeks equal rights for LGBT people — Vega has heard countless stories of people being assaulted and killed because of their sexual orientation. He’s been harassed on more than one occasion, but nothing ever turned physical before Sunday.
In a previous incident, Vega said, he was walking to his car when a man approached him and started hurling insults. He said experience has taught him to ignore the comments and go about his day.
That strategy didn’t work Sunday.
“It’s sad that I can’t go outside wearing a T-shirt that I like and want to support without being harassed or abused,” Vega said.
Although the pharmacy has security cameras, the incident in the parking lot was not caught on a recording. Vega said a store manager told him the cameras do not reach that part of the lot. Ashley, the police spokesman, said officers were told there was no video available from that day because of a malfunction.
On Monday afternoon, Ellen Ralph, who lives in the area near the Walgreens store, brought a flower arrangement and a card for Vega to the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, where Oklahomans for Equality is located. She also made a $100 donation to the organization.
“This is not her fault, but what a wonderful gesture in support of kindness,” Vega said.
He described his attacker as a 5-foot-10 white man in his 30s with several tattoos showing under his sleeveless undershirt. His vehicle was described as a tan or gold four-door Chevrolet Impala or Malibu. In addition to the female driver, a second woman and a dog were in the back seat.
Anyone with information may contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 918-596-COPS (2677), online at p3tips.com/918 or through the Tulsa Tips app, which can be downloaded from the Google Play or iTunes stores.