BOCA RATON — Officials with the former North Broward branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are reviewing last week’s beating of an elderly black woman at an upscale, predominantly white beach in Boca Raton.
Police are investigating the matter as a hate crime because the men hurled racial slurs at the woman as they were beating her.
“This is definitely an NAACP matter, and we should, and will be involved,” said Willie L. Lawson, III, the former president of the North Broward branch of the civil rights organization that covered North Broward and southern Palm Beach County.
The organization has merged with the Fort Lauderdale/Broward NAACP branch.
“It’s just a matter of which branch will handle it. The perpetrators are out there, and we have to find them,” Lawson said.
Lawson said he will contact the Fort Lauderdale and South Palm Beach County NAACP branches, as well as the national headquarters to begin action on the case.
The incident involves a black woman who told police she was pushed to the ground, beaten, kicked in the face, and dragged along a sidewalk last week by two young men who demanded to know what she was doing at “their” beach.
“I was just going to the bathroom, when they knocked me down and started kicking me in the face,” 65-year-old Ruby Hope Williams of Deerfield Beach said. “They were saying, ‘[expletive] [N-word] [expletive,] what are you doing at our beach?”
The men are described as 20 years old; one is white, the other has curly hair, tanned skin, and may be Hispanic, Williams told police.
Boca Raton police initially began an investigation, but soon dropped the case, they said, because Williams did not want the case to be investigated.
But at the insistence of the woman’s son, police reopened the case.
“The case is being actively investigated as a hate crime, at this time,” Boca Raton Police spokeswoman Sandra Boonenberg said in an email sent to the South Florida Times on Monday, Feb. 1.
No suspects have been located.
The brazen attack happened at dusk on Thursday, Jan. 28 at Red Reef Park, a public beach with a parking lot at 1400 North Ocean Blvd (State Rd. A1A) in Boca Raton. The area is home to some of the nation’s most expensive mansions, luxury condominiums and exclusive shops. Red Reef Park is a favorite with beach waders, and a popular spot for anglers.
Here’s what happened, according to a police report on the incident:
Williams arrived at the park with her husband, Kenneth Moore, around 6:15 p.m. As her husband went toward the ocean to fish, she walked across the parking lot toward the public restrooms.
She got to the women’s restroom, and tried to pull the door handle, but it was locked. She noticed a bright light coming from a computer or TV inside an attached office, south of the restrooms. As she walked toward the office windows, someone pushed her in the back from behind, causing her to fall forward onto her face on the pavement. Her lip was cut in the fall.
As she tried to get up, she heard someone yell, “[N-word], what are you doing here?’’ While she was on the ground, she turned around to see two young men. They dragged her along the pavement a couple of feet south. The dragging caused bruises around her mouth. Then they kicked her in the buttocks, and ran away.
The men did not attempt to rob or rape her. She yelled for her husband, but he was too far away. She used her cell phone to call her daughter for help, and her daughter told her to call 911. Williams was able to get up from the ground, and walked to her husband, who was near the water.
Police canvassed the area, but did not locate the suspects. There were no witnesses and no surveillance cameras in the area. A crime-scene technician photographed the scene and Williams’ injuries.
Later, paramedics arrived and rushed Williams to Boca Raton Community Hospital.
Police put out an alert with the description of the suspects, and searched the area.
“I canvassed the area but the suspects were not located. There were no witnesses to the incident and no surveillance cameras in the area,” the police report from Officer K.L. Brown states. “I observed blood on the pavement south of the restrooms where the incident occurred.”
After police arrived at the hospital to speak with Williams further, the case was closed.
“Williams later advised that due to insufficient leads to find the suspects, she did not want the case investigated,” Brown wrote. “I request that this case be inactivated.”
Family members were outraged that the case was not being investigated, and questioned police efforts to find the attackers.
“She was upset and being treated. Why would any officer even ask her if she wanted it investigated?” asked one of Williams’ daughters, Rethema Williams, 42, of Deerfield Beach, who rushed to meet her mother at the emergency room. “She was traumatized, and bleeding and couldn’t even speak.”
One of Williams’ sons, Arthur Williams, 48, demanded that the case be reopened and investigated as a hate crime.
“This is a case for the [United States] Justice Department to investigate as hate crime,” Arthur Williams said. “We don’t want Boca Raton to try and cover this up just because it happened in a rich neighborhood.”
He continued: “This is a hate crime. Since it happened on the beach, in that rich area, they want to look the other way.”
Officials with the Boca Raton Police Department, however, say the case was initially closed only due to Williams’ desire not to proceed. They say, however, they reopened the case the next day on their own.
“The victim initially reported that she did not want the case investigated. Although the case is currently listed in the system as “Inactive,” we immediately assigned it to Det. [Scott] Hanley on 01/29/10 and he placed two telephone calls to Ms. Williams’ residence that day,’’ Boonenberg, the police spokesperson, said. “When he did not get a return call, at 16:30 he responded to her residence in Deerfield Beach, where he met with Ms. Williams, her husband and her daughter. He took sworn taped statements from each of them. He contacted the watch commander and requested and [sic] extra patrol at the park. He also asked that officers go out during the same timeframe and interview park visitors to see if anyone may have witnessed anything.”
In addition to reopening this case, officials say they are evaluating security issues throughout the city and are in the process of putting cameras in some parks, but no final decision has been made. City officials also say no serious crimes were reported at Red Reef Park in 2009.
Arthur Williams responded: “Okay, that’s good, but we need to know why they didn’t start the investigation immediately and contact the news [media] so they could catch them. They were on foot. They have no security, or cameras, and I can’t believe no one heard my mother screaming. It doesn’t make sense, and the police report makes me believe they wanted to keep this racist attack quiet.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Ruby Williams