The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hate Crimes

Update: Please read this post where I modify what I said in this one.

Be sure to read my Western Tribune column, which follows this post. It is on a related subject.

While I am pleased that a Federal Hate Crimes bill including sexual orientation might soon become a reality, down here in the real world things are not so encouraging. The images you will see here are disturbing, and let's be glad that they don't come from Bessemer. But let's not wait until one of our friends is pictured in this way (or worse) before we do something about it.

I am really concerned about my community. For the most part, a community can only be as strong as its leaders. That is unfortunate when the leaders are complacent about crime after two home invasions, both targeting minorities. You may get tired of reading about this, but until the Mayor of Bessemer (Ed May) and the Bessemer Police Department (led by chief Nathaniel Rutledge) realize that the white people and the gay people and the Hispanic people deserve the same protections and respect as the rest of the residents, I will keep the conversation going.

This is Ronnie Robertson, a 31 year old man from Ohio who was attacked last month after answering a question ("a mix of gay and straight people chose Tabby's to play sand volleyball - but were harassed by a man who continued to ask who in the group was gay and who wasn't & her brother finally answered. 'When he admitted that he was, they lost it, went crazy and started attacking my brother and pushing him out of the bar.")

From what I heard last night, had this crime occured in Bessemer, it would not have been investigated. The victim would have been called a liar by the police. The victim would have been accused by the Mayor of being friends with his attackers. The police department would be criticized by other law enforcement agencies for ignoring the evidence and turning a blind eye.

This is Eric Patten, a 20 year old man "charged with assaulting two young gay women in Provincetown," last month.

While he is the one charged, he obviously picked the wrong lesbians to attack.

"At around 1:08 a.m. Saturday morning in Provincetown pedestrians alerted police to a fight on Commercial Street at the Post Office Café, an eatery in the center of town. Police saw Patten punching a woman on the ground, according to police Sgt. Carrie Lopes. The victim was one of two women, ages 22 and 23, who were allegedly assaulted by Patten. He is accused of punching one of the women with his right fist and calling the two women “faggots,” thinking they were gay men."

Had this attack occurred in Bessemer, I do not have confidence that an arrest would have been made. If a report was even filed, it might have said "criminal mischief" or some such bull crap.

The Mayor and Chief cite statistics that crime is down. But their statistics are based on reporting. And when a man's door is broken in an attempt to gain entry, something more than "criminal mischief" has occurred.

This is Lance Neve, who in March, 2008 was assaulted in Rochester, NY

"According to Ogden police, Lance Neve, 26, was with his partner, Osbert Maldonado, 28, of Rochester, and another friend at Snuggery's Bar in Spencerport the night of March 7. They allegedly were subjected to derogatory comments throughout the night from Jesse D. Parsons, 24, of Spencerport. About 1 a.m. on March 8, Parsons apparently asked to shake Neve's hand because he had never shaken a gay man's hand, said Ogden police Investigator Scott Okolowicz. Neve refused, and Parsons then allegedly grabbed Neve and beat him up. When police arrived, Neve was unconscious. He was transported to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for a fractured skull, nose, left eye socket and upper jaw bone and blood on the brain, Okolowicz said."

His attacker got 5 1/2 years and has to pay over $24,000 in medical expenses. Had this attack occured here, Neve probably would have been out of luck. I say that, because there are indications that while individual police officers are fine men and women, the Police Department has an undercurrent (or tidal wave) of homophobia.

It will take more than a statement from the Chief to counter this. Evidence of qualified diversity training which includes sexual orientation and evidence of a policy which shows respect toward the LGBT community might do it.

h/t to Andy Towle at Towleroad for the pictures and quotes.


lipscomb bohemian said...

It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom,,,,albert einstein

Anonymous said...

Yes. That is what we do down here at the police station. We have weekly staff meetings and we say "okay, look guys - let's be sure to take really good care of the black people, but as for the whites, hispanics, and most of all the gays, let's ignore thair concerns and get to them when we have time."
You haven't got a clue, sir.

I challenge you to give us ONE SPECIFIC incident when a gay person in this town was attacked and the crime was ignored. Don't give us hearsay. Give us a time, date, place, police report.

You will not be able to find one. I am an officer in this town. I take my job seriously. Our chief takes his job seriously. We have a big job to do with limited resources. I don't appreciate what you are suggesting.

Anonymous said...

You may take your job seriously.....the Chief does not!

Joe said...


"I take my job seriously."

I have no doubt that you do, and hope all of you do. I have always been supportive of the individual officers and speak highly of them.

"Our chief takes his job seriously."

OK. I am friends with the chief, and hope that he can take constructive criticism. It's not just me, I just happen to be the loudest.

"We have a big job to do with limited resources."

This I totally understand.

Here are some examples, however. I am not giving names or incident reports out of privacy.

I consider kidnapping a serious offense, especially when combined with the threat of murder.

Four days after my friend was kidnapped during a home invasion, I called the chief. He told me he was "not aware" of the crime. He asked me for specifics. Said he would look into it. If he had heard about it after it happened, he certainly didn't take it seriously enough to remember it 4 days later.

A couple of days after the crime, officers on patrol were at Arlington school. A neighbor stopped to ask what they were checking for. The neighbor remarked that he wondered if it was connected to the recent kidnapping . "What kidnapping?" they asked. He told them. They were not aware.

The chief told a local attorney he would issue a press release that Friday (the day I called)and warn the neighbors of the threat. Never happened.

It took nine days before the pictures of the suspects were released. The official reason was "it takes a long time to get those pictures." (from bank surveillence). However, when banks are robbed, pictures are released immediately.

We were told by the chief that although the suspects voiced a threat against the whites and "faggots" of south bessemer, this was not a way of "terrorizing" the community, because "no other incidents had occured." So, we have to wait until a second kidnapping or killing before a threat is taken seriously, even when the suspects are still at large?

It just seems to show where the priorities are.

Jason Burnett said...

Joe et al,
I've never had any experience with homophobia from anyone at the BPD (and they've been to my place for more than a dozen incidents in the past 3 years). On the night of my kidnapping, when I told the officer that the two men threatened to go to the house and wait for Glenn "after they were done with me," the department immediately mobilized and a dozen or more officers went to the house and searched it and the rest of the block top to bottom.

Just last week, I heard about another crime that happened in west Jefferson county. The victim was targeted specifically because he was gay. He was driven from Rojo on Highland Avenue, taken all over town, and eventually ended up stripped to his underwear, held at knife-point, robbed, and left alone in the woods outside of Adamsville. Since he got into their car willingly (they said they were going to a party in Mountain Brook) the only police department in Jefferson County that was willing to take the case seriously was Bessemer.

The officers of the BPD that I have met (and I have a file of case reports) have always treated me with kindness, dignity, and respect. There may be plenty of challenges to be overcome in our police department, but I do not believe that widespread racism and homophobia are among them.

Jason Burnett

Joe said...

Jason, I appreciate your post. Note that I did not accuse any specific officers of homophobia, and I too have not experienced it, and like I said, I speak highly of them. But I honestly don't think the chief or the department takes the case seriously, based on what our good friends told me last night, some of which I referenced in the previous comment. And nothing has been done or said to make the gays feel less threatened. Anyway, its a conversation that I think needs to be held, probably in all Alabama police depaertments.