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Authorities seek public’s help following 2 bias incidents at West Orange businesses

Pride flags were damaged at a local cafe, and the owner of a photo studio received a threatening phone call.

Matt Trapani and Amanda Lee

Jul 19, 2023, 9:06 PM

Updated 335 days ago

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The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is asking for the public’s help solving a string of bias crimes in West Orange.
The owner of Harper’s Café on South Valley Road says he came into work to find black paint smeared across the building. Windows were smashed, and two Pride flags were defiled with paint. He says it happened last Wednesday and Thursday.
“While it happened to my cafe, I don't really feel directly targeted. It's more so the LGBTQ community, so my heart goes out to them. Something like this has no place in, not only this neighborhood, but just anywhere,” says owner Garan Dickson.
West Orange police say they received reports of another bias incident Thursday. The woman who owns the photo studio next door says she was getting a phone call asking her if she was Black. When she told them she was Hispanic, she says they told her that she should move to another neighborhood and threatened to harm her business.
"Basically somebody called me asking if this is a Black-owned business. To that, I said no, I'm Latino and that person told me that why if I wasn't Black, I was growing braids,” says Ambar Jimenez.
She says the woman on the phone accused her of cultural appropriation.
“I was like, I’m Dominican. This is part of our culture too,” Jimenez says.
The Essex County prosecutor says a special team focused on bias crimes is working the case. Prosecutor Theodore Stephens says that anyone with information should call the office’s tip line.
“We are most interested in getting the person off the street, if we can, and making the type of example that this should not be repeated. Often if people get away with things like this, as you know, it empowers other people to do similar events,” Stephens says.
The suspect could be facing criminal mischief and bias crime charges.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help pay for the damage to Harper’s Café. Dickson says he plans to install a new security system and reinstall the Pride flags.
Those who might have information about these incidents are urged to contact the West Orange Police Department at 973-325-4000.
Anyone who believes they are the victim of a bias crime should contact the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General by calling 800-277-BIAS (2427).


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