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Trans man harassed, mistaken for ISIS member
by Matt Simonette
2015-11-25

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A trans man who works in Berwyn says that he was harassed and threatened at gunpoint by an area resident who mistook him for an ISIS member.

Benedetto DeFrancisco, who lives on Chicago's North Side and works as a teaching assistant in Berwyn, alleges that, on Nov. 18, William Jackson, of the 1400 block of S. Wesley Ave., began shouting at him and flashed a pistol because his beard made him resemble a terrorist.

DeFrancisco said that most mornings he goes for a walk upon arriving at his workplace, both to unwind after his commute and to check the perimeter of the school grounds. The first time he passed Jackson's house, DeFrancisco had his headphones in, and did not know Jackson was yelling at him.

"I literally just walk around the school, so on my second lap, he was definitely shouting [again], and it felt like it was aimed at me," DeFrancisco said. "It was getting louder and more aggressive. A lot of swearing. I honestly thought he was drunk. I took out my headphones and looked at him, and heard what he was saying: 'I know what you're doing, motherfucker. You're scaring my wife—get out of here.'"

At that point, DeFrancisco saw Jackson's gun, a .45 caliber Ruger semi-automatic pistol. "He was waving it around, waving it at me," he recalled. "I just tried to sat as calm as I could. I pretended to put my earphones back in, but dialed 911 instead, and walked around the corner to hide."

Berwyn police arrived within moments and confronted Jackson. A detective later told DeFrancisco that Jackson and his wife were avid viewers of Fox News and other cable news programs that were playing up the threat of foreign terrorism. Jackson's wife was distressed by DeFrancisco's look, so Jackson came out to confront him. DeFrancisco said he identifies with many facets of Middle Eastern culture, since his mother was born in Damascus, but is of mixed-European descent.

"They were getting scared, because the ISIS attack happened in France, and getting more scared that ISIS was in Chicago," DeFrancisco explained. "It's clear that they had been watching me since the previous Monday—this happened on a Wednesday. I've been taking these walks since I've been working there. On my walk, I notice the same people come around. My thing to do is say hello. Unfortunately, with this man and his wife, their fear got the best of them. They could have just asked, 'Hey, what are you doing here?'"

Jackson was charged with aggravated assault and will appear in court Dec. 9. DeFrancisco asked police to investigate the matter as a hate crime, but was doubtful that would happen.

"[Jackson] is not the only person watching Fox News—it's a toxin and it's spreading fear, and this fear leads to hatred. Instead of wanting to know something about a culture or religion, they just shut it down in the most horrible or scary way," said DeFrancisco, who also noted that his gender identity was was not made an issue by Jackson or police.

He said Jackson, from whom he'd most like a letter of apology, became remorseful when talking to police.

"I'm not interested in his serving jail time," DeFrancisco added. "I would like a dialogue with him about what lesson he learned from this, what he's going to do to open his mind a little. I'm not looking for any kind of revenge."


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