We Solved Much of the Problem of Violence
In the gay community in Long Beach and in those around the country, crime is simply not being tolerated any longer. In July of 1990, a gay man was stabbed to death in Long Beach by three men in front of a dozen witnesses, just after leaving a restaurant frequented by gays and lesbians. Many members of the gay community believe this to have been a hate crime. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “Hate crime stops now,” was the cry from various LGBT groups. While the police who worked the case (and who did capture two of the three murderers), believed it to have been a homicide resulting from a robbery gone bad, the leaders of the gay community knew better. Regardless of whether or not it was a hate crime, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Within days of that murder, leaders of the gay community met to discuss what we could do to help reduce crime against gay and lesbian people. We formed a coalition of existing groups to hammer out a plan of self-defense. I and others wrote articles suggesting ways better to avoid being a victim, such as: being aware of your surroundings when leaving a gay bar; avoiding talking to strangers on the street, especially at night; avoiding dark alleys and streets at night when walking home; leaving your car keys in your hand when walking to your car so you can get in it without delay, and so on. We explained in detail why it is extremely important to report all crimes.
We leafleted bars, discos, restaurants and other businesses frequented by gays and lesbians, with reminders to be cautious. Special whistles to be used to signal danger were passed out within the community and symbolized a new awareness of the need for self-defense. Bright green posters were displayed in most of these businesses repeating the same kinds of messages. (There is a resistance from some business owners to participate in anti-crime programs like this because they feel it may signal that the area is not safe and certain patrons will stop going to those places. Sadly, some owners — a few — will not only refuse to participate but will go so far as to discourage patrons who were victims of crime in their vicinity from reporting that crime.
I had established a hotline four years earlier, or more precisely, the Hate Crimes Reporting Line, which rang in my home for six years. The phone number was stenciled on all literature placed in gay-frequented businesses to urge victims to report crimes. All complaint I received I brought to the direct attention of the chief of police. I and others initiated meetings with Long Beach Police Department officials to achieve not only a faster response from officers and detectives but also to bring about a more serious response. Several of us worked very hard to build more bridges to the Police Department so that we could follow up on reported crimes.
Perhaps the most impressive development that was forged from the coalition was the Long Beach Teams Project, a civilian patrol organization comprised of members of the gay community. Its members were trained in methods of deterring hate crime by nonintervention approaches. The Long Beach Police Department was helpful in overseeing elements of the training and making suggestions about how to avoid potential acts of violence, de-escalated incidents in progress, and assist victims of violence or other crimes. The Long Beach Teams Project began in February 1992, to patrol the Broadway corridor in a highly controlled manner utilizing three walking teams of four people along with two other members in a roving vehicle. They are “armed” not with guns or batons, but with megaphones, walkie-talkies, and high-powered flashlights. All this is to deter violence. Mace and tear gas are also carried in case the foot patrol itself is attacked.
The Long Beach Teams Project’s patrols are coordinated with the police department to create a more supportive effort. The shift captain and the communications captain (the two individuals in the roving vehicle) check in with the police department at the beginning of each shift and communicate with police as necessary while patrolling. During the hours the teams are deployed on the streets, violence has dramatically decreased in the area.
This massive multi-pronged approach to combat crime would work in any area for any group of people. However, it is even more important to have a strong and continual anti-crime campaign in the gay community because of a unique obstacle to gays and lesbians in reporting hate crime.
When a Black man is called a “nigger” and is assaulted, he may harbor some feelings of intimidation by the assailant, but he can go to the police and report the crime with little other difficulty. When a Jew is shoved off the sidewalk and called anti-Semitic names, he too might feel intimidated, but he is not otherwise hindered from reporting the crime.
When a gay man is called a “faggot” and is knocked down and kicked in the head, he often faces more than intimidation from his assailants. In order to report the crime, he knows that he will have to tell the officer where he was, perhaps outside a gay establishment, that he may have been called a “faggot” or a “queer,” and other pertinent facts about the crime. In a real sense, he has to come out as a gay man to the officer. A Black man does not have to come out as a Black man or to disclose any personal secrets about his private life in order to report the crime. Neither does a Jewish person, but a gay or lesbian person often does because it is the basis of the assault.
You might think, so what? The gay man tells the officer that he is gay and that he was beaten up because of it. No big deal! Correct, it is not a big deal if the victim is out of the closet. It would be nice if all gay and lesbian people could find in our society an environment in which they could simply acknowledge who they are. That, however, is not the reality in which we all live. As you read the chapters of this book, you will better understand how reporting a hate crime which casts a lavender light on one’s sexuality could backfire in various ways. First, in many cities and states, there is no respect for gay or lesbian people. The officer may just laugh at the victim and walk away or not find the incident important enough to make a report, or even blame the victim for causing his or her own beating. Worse, in some areas of the country where there is little acceptance understanding or tolerance for gays and lesbians, the police are known to abuse and even arrest the victim because he/she is a homosexual. In these areas, anyone could just point to a gay and say, “He solicited me!”, and the accused would be arrested.
Well, what about Southern California: Is it okay to be gay? How do the police feel about this issue? What about the Long Beach Police Department? All police departments are very different; there are no generalizations to be made. But I can mention a few things about the Long Beach force. Long Beach police officers and all other department employees are required to participate in a two-hour in-service training session every two years to become aware of, and more sensitive to, gay community issues., especially hate crimes. A gay psychologist conducts these sessions, drawing from his personal experiences of injustice. I sat in the back of the room at one of these sessions to observe. There were about thirty-five officers present, both men and women, who were encouraged to speak up and to express any feelings and conceptions they had about gay and lesbian people and issues. They were allowed to be as derogatory as they felt a need to be in order to express their feelings and their level of knowledge on the subject.
It was about as I expected. A handful indicated in one manner or another that they felt very uncomfortable in dealing with gay people. These were the same officers whose total focus was on what gays and lesbians did in bed. Another handful spoke out in support of gays and lesbians. On one occasion as one officer was making a “fag” remark, another officer from across the room yelled to him to “Knock it off!”
Most officers simply remained quiet as if they were attending a boring lesson in a high school class. I came away from the training session feeling glad that not many officers seemed overtly anti-gay, and I wondered what seeds of enlightenment were planted in their brains. I tried to think of these one-shot in-service training sessions as only a beginning, and that they needed continual exposure to gay and lesbian issues as well as to the sensitive issues in other minority and cultural communities in the City.
But there is another side to coming out to an officer, even to an understanding one. I hope you understand (at least by the time you finish reading this book) that the vast majority of gays and lesbians are basically closeted, or at least out only to their immediate circle of friends. With this in mind, assume that a gay man who is somewhat closeted gets beaten up as he comes out of a gay disco. The police are called. The officers show concern for the victim and take a report of the incident. Since the assailants were seen running down the street, the officers invite the victim into their car and go off looking for the perpetrators. They spot the assailants. They follow them, corner and arrest them. That sounds just.
But the legal problems begin down the road a bit. There are many detailed questions asked by the police and many facts recorded that cannot be withdrawn. And when all of this gets to the trial phase, the fact change from “confidential” written statements in police files, to public statements in open court.
This somewhat closeted victim of a hate crime knows that he or she is going to have to disclose to the police department and later in court all the details of what happened. It will certainly come out that he was at a gay establishment. Does this victim work for TRW or some other defense contractor and stand the risk of losing his job? Is he a high school teacher who might be fired? If he was a young man, are his parents going to toss him out of the house? Is he in the military? Is he up for a promotion in a large company? Because he is discovered to be a gay person, is he going to be suspected of having AIDS? Is he going to start hearing “fag” jokes from his brother? Are other family members just tacitly going to stop inviting him over to their homes? Is he going to find graffiti on his garage door?
Gays know these are real possibilities, and for many, they can be tough questions to face up to and deal with. My solution is simple: Create an environment in our society where people can feel safe to be just who they are. Then the fear of being rejected is much less; therefore, the fear of being found out or just coming out is reduced to a mild, temporary moment of anxious newborn honesty which flowers into good old-fashioned self-respect and healthy self-esteem. For some, the time is now right. Others need more assurances.
We have talked about victims of hate crimes, but what about the perpetrators? Where do they come from? What is the root of their hatred and why do some people express hatred in violence? Look around you. The religious arena is full of self-proclaimed “good Christians” and “good Jews” and the other judgemental “moralists” in our society who repeatedly (in innumerable varying speeches) call for an end to the “sin” of homosexuality, an end to the “immorality” of gay and lesbian sex, an end to the “intrinsic evil,” an end to the “abomination,” and so on. The criticism is not that gays and lesbians are anti-social! It is that they are considered to be anti-religious! Gays and lesbians are rejected in society because certain “religious” organizations have declared that homosexuals are in violation of God’s “laws” as interpreted by those particular church leaders.
This brings up a couple of interesting questions. When did we vote to give these anti-gay religious leaders the authority to declare who is a good citizen of the United States and who is not? When these religious leaders attempt to ostracize gays and lesbians and even outlaw their behavior, on what basis do they indict these people? Could it be that gays and lesbians do not support these fundamentalist churches and therefore are bad for the country? Perhaps, because it is popular to bash gays (especially when these ministers perpetuate myths such as gays recruit straights into homosexuality, or that the gay community is comprised of child molesters), it creates an emotional appeal that helps bring in contributions to the ministry. As more people are drawn to a particular minister, the more powerful his influence becomes. You might say that these ministers need the gay community because there are not a lot of other “whipping boys” out there who can bring as much money and power to their ministry.
I believe it is clearly by design that anti-gay ministers and their organizations have tried so hard (and succeeded to a large degree) to ostracize the gay community not only from churches but also from mainstream society. Their anti-gay attitudes have tainted social institutions ranging from the United States military to the leaders of big business, to college campuses, to the Boy Scouts of America. Many such institutions choose to perpetuate mythical dangers that gays and lesbians are bad for our society.
Who are these prowling vigilantes who respond to these messages of hate by preying on gays? Like most people who resort to violence to solve problems, they are individuals acting alone or, most commonly, in small groups. They tend not to have the intellectual capacity to understand that we live in a diverse society whose inhabitants maintain a wide range of cultural values. They are often people who display bigoted behavior against other minority groups. Among my circle of friends, those in the field of psychology often point out that people who assault gays tend to do so in response to their own sexual and social insecurities. I know from what victims have told me over the hot line in describing their assailants that gay bashers seem to be neither well educated nor emotionally mature. They are people who may feel stuck or trapped in the needy levels of society and who feel that the only way they can become (seemingly) more powerful and successful is to degrade and beat up the people around them.
The following statistical information about perpetrators is contained in the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission Report for 1990 and 1991 on hate crimes. Teenagers, who are perpetrators in about one out of ten assaults, have one additional force at play, and that seems to be peer pressure. They are more likely to engage in gay bashing on a dare, or to show their peers they are truly “macho.” Gang activity needs to be listed here too, inasmuch as there have been two identified assaults (and probably a lot more) that were required by Long Beach gangs as part of a member’s initiation rite.
Physically, perpetrators of hate crimes against gays and lesbians are almost always males (in 95 percent of the reported cases). Racially, 19 percent of the crimes were committed by Blacks, 36 percent were committed by Latinos, and 43 percent were committed by Caucasians. (These are 1991 statistics. In 1990, Latinos committed the most reported hate crimes against gays and lesbians, 44 percent.) Almost all of the perpetrators of anti-gay crimes range in age from 16 and 35 years of age, with 53 percent being adults and 47 percent being juveniles.
In examining juvenile perpetrators, we find that along with being responsible for 47 percent of the hate crime against gays, they also committed 40 percent of the crimes based on racial hatred with Blacks being the number one target. Interestingly, all reported hate crimes based on hatred of religion were committed by adults. Apparently, young people hate Blacks and gays but don’t have much of a problem with people of different religions. They leave religious bigotry for when they “grow up.”
For decades, gays were the ideal targets for assault because they were easy prey. Almost all gays in this country were closeted until the gay rights movement began in 1969, living in fear of being found out. Depending on local attitudes, there was no protection in law for gays and lesbians; and, in fact, they could be arrested if their sexual orientation was discovered in the process of investigating the assault. Therefore, people could go out and beat up gays all they wanted, and the victims usually felt that they could not report the crime. Gay bashers had a field day, and even though today gay and lesbian people are much freer to acknowledge who they are, gay bashers are still doing their thing.
A major difference now is that the members of the LGBT community are no longer just letting hate crimes happen. Our anguish is being channeled through the crime reporting system. Locally, the most explosive difference is that the men and women of LBPD have successfully been retrained through sensitivity training and by new pro-gay policies issued by the police command staff as directed by city management. New officers going through the police academy process are initially introduced to LGBT issues and sensitivities. The process of getting the LBPD on bore with LGBT rights was very successful in Long Beach (and I suspect, in many other cities as well ). This accomplishment did not get any publicity because none of the powers that be wanted to admit that such a wide-spread problem even existed.
Not including any police gathered statistic of anti-LGBT hate crimes, since I was never privy to that personal information, the calls I received in the nearly six years I monitored that hotline were reduced dramatically. The phone number was advertised consistently through all those years; the data showed that there were 45 hate crimes, mostly violent, reported in 1986. The number of reports gradually decreased to only two reported crimes in 1992. As I recall, those last two calls were not reports of violence. but rather harassment and vandalism. I cannot overstate that a high number of these type of crimes go totally unreported. Nevertheless, this was a tremendously successful effort in our city. I always called it a three-prong approach: Re-train police officers to respect our community and take reports of crimes, educate – via gay newspapers – the need to report hate crimes, and finally, educate the general public – via the Long Beach Press-Telegram – of the of the violence LGBT members were confronting every day. It really worked.
Many factors helped achieve this result. There were leaders in the LGBT community, before my involvement, that did a lot to raise anti-LGBT crime and discrimination as real problems desperate for attention. The city’s management accepted the challenge to improve our equality. But I need to single out Police Chief Lawrence Binkley who was very interested in improving his department (he was brought in to “clean up the rank and file”) as well as keen on fixing the police-LGBT community relations. He was the one I worked with the most and I found him not only very supportive but also very effective and helpful. I supposed I was the linchpin that worked with all these people to bring down anti-LGBT violence.In all the things I have done in my life, and I now am approaching 70 years old, this made me feel the most “useful.”
This site is not offered as a definitive source on hate crime. You may Google your county’s name followed by the words, “hate crime reports,” and you will see (hopefully in your part of America), all the official stats gathered over the years.