Actress, activist, and designer Rosario Dawson isn't just Senator Cory Booker's girlfriend—she's also an alleged hate crime offender.
A former employee and family friend of Dawson is suing the actress and her family for battery, assault, trespass, discrimination, civil rights and labor violations. Dedrek Finley, 55, alleges that the 40-year-old actress and three of her family members began discriminating against him after he came out as transgender. The core assault allegedly took place on April 28, 2018 after their relationship grew increasingly antagonistic after Finley came out. While the Dawson family has yet to comment on the allegations, the details of the assault match the recent rise in violence (including murders) against transgender and nonbinary individuals. Nationally, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals have reached record highs.
As is common with many hate crimes, Finley's lawsuit details how discrimination and intolerance occurred long before any violence. Finley was reportedly a family friend who only moved from New York to Los Angeles in order to work for Dawson as her handyman in exchange for lodging. Amidst renovating and remodeling the actress' personal home, Finley moved into a residence rented by the Dawson family. That same year, Finley came out to the family as a transgender man, changing his preferred name and pronouns. "The family misgendered him multiple times each day, with deliberate indifference as to the appropriate way to address Mr. Finley," the lawsuit claims. Rosario Dawson is said to have "acted with deliberate indifference and did nothing to correct the situation."
In fact, Dawson reportedly dismissed and invalidated Finley's gender, saying, "You're a grown woman." When Finley tried to correct her use of pronouns, Dawson allegedly replied, "Whatever." He's suing for discrimination on the grounds that the Dawson family ordered him to move out of his rented residence without legal grounds for eviction. Their dispute escalated until April 28, when Rosario Dawson's mother, Isabel, allegedly ripped out a window screen and dragged him by the arm out of the open window. The lawsuit describes Rosario Dawson helping her mother to attack and beat Finley, allegedly sitting on top of him and "actively restraining him while he was on the ground to ensure that her mother could continue battering him."
"Once Mr. Finley was lying helpless on the ground outside, Isabel, who is substantially larger than Mr. Finley, got on top of Mr. Finley's body and began punching him," the suit states. "While beating Mr. Finley, Isabel screamed, 'You're not so much of a man now,' which was a clear and denigrating reference to Mr. Finley's gender identity." Rosalia Dawson allegedly said, "Mom, stop being petty" before holding Finley down.
Other details in the allegations include Isabel threatening to kill Finley's cat if he didn't leave the residence, Isabel stomping on his hand, and one of the Dawson women taking away his phone, which allegedly held video evidence of Isabel threatening his cat. After the attack, Finley called the police, received hospital treatment, and was granted a temporary restraining order against Isabel Dawson. He continued to stay at the residence in dispute until September, at which point he says the Dawsons shut off the gas, forcing him to leave the premises.
Finley is suing both Rosario and Isabel Dawson for the assault, as well as Dawson's uncle and stepfather who are accused parties to the discrimination and assault. Finley's later, Tasha Alyssa Hill, told NBC News that Finley decided to sue after the Dawson family refused to communicate with him. "Mr. Finley had a good relationship with the family, did work with them in New York and had a good enough relationship that they invited him to California and offered him a living situation and a full time working situation for the family," Hill said. "When they did that, they knew him as a lesbian woman. When he came out to California and decided to come out to them as a transgender man, that's when things started going south." According to Hill, Finley is seeking "some sort of compensation" so he can "get back on track with his life [and] put this incident behind him." The Dawson family has yet to comment on the allegations.
Of course, part of the shock surrounding the lawsuit is that Rosario Dawson has been lauded for her activism in the Latinx community and other social causes. Washington Post has called her "the young Jane Fonda of the Afro-Latinx world" for her outspokenness about voting rights and environmental sustainability. Just last month, Dawson described hateful anti-immigration rhetoric and legislation as America "suffering a crisis of our humanity." As the girlfriend of a presidential candidate (however behind in the polls Corey Booker might be), committing a hate crime in 2018 clearly propagates the kind of intolerance and hate culture that most Americans are trying to combat.
NOTE: Includes hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming and mixed group victimsSource: FBI, Chart: Nigel Chiwaya at NBC News
To put this incident in context, Finley's lawsuit was filed within one week of the 21st anniversary of Matthew Shepherd's murder, a 1998 violent hate crime that forced America to become more aware of hate crimes and inspired The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Still, in 2018, at least 26 transgender people were violently murdered, with the FBI reporting that the number of anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes has steadily risen since 2014. While the LGBTQ+ community makes up at least 4.5% of the America population, the FBI finds that queer individuals account for more than 16% of the nation's reported hate crimes. Of course, an untold number of assaults go unreported every year.