by Jack Castiglione
(These are true events, with names changed to protect the innocent.)
1. Bashing: A Family Affair
“You fat faggot! You damn Mexican! Why don’t you get the hell out of here? We don’t want you!” Mrs. Banner, the landlady, yelled as she held a garden hose ready to begin watering the flower beds around the ten unit complex. What unfolds now is an actual recorded anti-gay violence hate crime.
“Why? Why are you so mean to me? What did I ever do to you?” asked Raphael earnestly from the base of the concrete staircase leading to his apartment. “The previous manager didn’t have any problems with me.”
“Well, we’re the landlords now, and we say you’re nothing but trouble. We don’t want no damn queers living here!” She continued to criticize him pointing her short, stubby index finger in the tenant’s face. She was only about five feet tall and rather chubby. Her strawberry blonde hair which was slightly longer than shoulder length was pulled back into a ponytail. Her skin was ghostly white and displayed no signs of makeup.
“What am I doing?” again he asked, looking perplexed.
“You play your stupid radio too loud. Your TV’s too loud. And you’re too loud! We don’t want no faggots here!” She bellowed trying to hide a smirk. It was a look that reflected her sense of superiority over Raphael, and she relished it.
“Me! What’s that!” Raphael screamed back at her, gesturing with his outstretched arm, palm upward, toward the apartment immediately to his left. It was the unit underneath his. The tenants had their windows open and were playing their radio loud enough to be heard across the street.
“Those are good tenants. You’re nothing but a faggot! I seen your faggot friend come here yesterday. You damn queers. I’m going to evict you. We don’t want you doing your queer stuff in this apartment building. Why don’t you just get the hell out!” She boiled in an ever increasingly biting tone.
“Hey! I have every right to be here. I’m not doing nothing. I’m not bothering nobody! You have no right to bad mouth me.” He told her, beginning to defend himself.
“Don’t you tell me what I can and cannot do?” She told him in a loud haughty voice as she whirled the hose in circular sweeping motion at Raphael’s face and making no further efforts to suppress her grin.
“You bitch!” Raphael lashed back verbally as he jerked his upper body back at the waist and simultaneously warded off the oncoming hose with his right forearm.
“Who the hell do you think you are!” Roared a voice from Raphael’s blind side. It was Mr. Banner who suddenly appeared between them to grab the tenant’s arm to spin him around. In one quick swoop, Mr. Banner plowed his fist squarely in the tenant’s face, knocking him down on his back.
“God! Stop! Ow! No! Damn it, stop! OW!” Raphael spewed out his pleadings as he felt his testicles exploding in spasmodic bursts of pain that brought flashes of lightning into his vision. He doubled over on the ground bring his knees up to his chest and covering his groin area with both hands. The Banners were kicking him in short, sharp jabs to his groin.
Mrs. Banner began to laugh, “Move your hands you fucking faggot!” Not being able to attack the victim’s now protected groin, they began kicking him in the head.
“Stop! Damn it! STOP!” Raphael yelled as he moved his hands quickly to protect his head from the kicking assault. Then Raphael released a most primal scream. His unprotected testicles were again bombarded with hard shoe kicks.
Raphael was a big man, standing about six feet tall and weighing well over two hundred pounds. But he had a look about him that projected a teddy bear personality. He was not an energetic or aggressive man, but one who was quite gentle. He had a manner of walking slower than most, not because he was lazy, but because he had AIDS. Since he first contracted the disease eighteen months ago, his strength and energy have been slowly ebbing away. “They’re going to kill me!” he thought to himself. “I can’t take this anymore! I thought I was going to die of AIDS and now they’re beating me to death. Why are they doing this? Oh God! MAKE THEM STOP! Please just make them stop!”
“Move those hands!” Mrs. Banner demanded, giggling as she spoke. “Move your faggot hands!”, she repeated as the sadistic assault switched back to Raphael’s head. His entire body jerked and flailed like a lively fish on the pavement as he continuously adjusted his limbs to protect whatever area was being assaulted by the two landlords.
Within minutes, which was an eternity to Raphael, a Long Beach police officer arrived on the scene. The neighbor who lived on the other side of the street, an elderly woman, had called the police and continued to observe the appalling brutality, which now subsided with the officer’s approach.
“What’s going on here.” The officer asked the landlords as he noticed Raphael slowly pulling himself to his feet using the wrought iron stair railing for support. He stood hunched over with his knees noticeably bent so as not to stretch the painful area of his groin.
“This guy was mouthing off. Cursing at my wife! Then he hit her,” charged Mr. Banner, a short, slender, Irish man who spoke with a tinge of New England accent. “Ask my sister-in-law, she was standing right here. She witnessed the whole thing.” Mr. Banner pointed to the woman of about forty years old who had just stepped forward. She carried a look of discomfort on her face and did not speak up.
“Wait a minute! He’s lying.” Interrupted Raphael. “She wasn’t even here. Officer, these two landlords have been…”
“Quiet!”, commanded the officer, cutting Raphael in mid-sentence.
“Officer,” Raphael began again, this time speaking more calmly, “these two just began…”
“I said quiet!”, the officer repeated to Raphael, staring at him squarely in the eyes to be sure the tenant would take him seriously. “Where do you live?” Raphael pointed to his upstairs apartment. “Then go on up there right now and I will talk to you later.”
“Now! Unless you want me to arrest you.”
With that, Raphael turned and started for his apartment. As he lifted his right leg to take the first step up the staircase, the return of the stabbing pains to his groin caused him frightening thoughts that he was very seriously injured. He put his right leg back down and began again with his left. He maneuvered slowly up the stairs, stepping up to each riser with his left foot and pulling his right foot painfully along.
He hobbled to his apartment door, entered slowly and made a concentrated effort to walk to the closest chair. He grabbed hold of the over-stuffed chair, first with one hand and then turning in slow motion to place his other hand on the opposite arm of the chair to support himself as he sat down. Bolts of electrical shocks shot from his groin in all directions within his body. He gradually surrendered his weight into the welcomed softness of the seat, releasing his firm grips slowly. Raphael stared down at the crotch of his baggy white pants, bringing his hands there and slipping them gently under the area. “God. Oh God!” Raphael mumbled to himself as he tried to cradle his enclosed, aching testicles and penis. He was terrified. He wanted to unzip his pants and see the condition of his body, but he was too afraid. “What have they done to me,” he exhausted as he visualized both his testicles swollen and bleeding. “What should I do?”
Raphael’s head was abuzz with questions. Am I going to be evicted? Should I see a doctor? Is this officer going to arrest me? I won’t tell them I have AIDS; that I’ve been sick. I should call someone. Maybe I need an ambulance. Where will I live? Maybe he’ll just take me down for questioning. How am I going to walk downstairs to his car? Will I survive this? If they arrest me, I’ll ask for mercy. I’ll tell the judge, … Maybe an attorney can get me out of jail. How am I going to pay for this? The doctor? The attorney? I’ll call Leo, he’ll know what to do. Maybe I should put some ice on my balls. Oh, my aching balls! Leo could put me up for a while. If I tell them I have AIDS, they’ll throw me out for sure! I need to call Leo. Oh God, what a mess! What are they saying about me out there? The phone, Jesus! It’s over there. I can’t get up. I can’t get up right now. I’ll just sit here for now. I need to rest.
“Come in!” Raphael yelled in response to the knock at the door he left ajar, not even thinking of getting up to greet his visitor. In an afterthought, he realized it was probably the officer and that he should have answered the knock more properly.
The officer entered the apartment and stepped over to where Raphael had planted himself. He made no comment about the bruises and the slight bloodiness that had begun to materialize on Raphael’s face. The officer, towering over the seated tenant spoke in a steady commanding voice. “I talked to the landlords, and I think we got this all taken care of.”
“What did they say?” Raphael anxiously asked.
“They said they’re not going to press charges.” The officer declared with some satisfaction in his tone.
“I didn’t do nothing! What did they say about me? I want …”
“Look, I got the complete story. They’re not pressing charges, but if you cause any more trouble, I’ll arrest you.”
“But what about my side? I want to tell you my side of what happened.” Raphael became more demanding.
“It’s over. Just leave it at that.”
“But I have something to say, too! I want to tell my side!”
“If I hear any more from you, you’ll be arrested.” The officer said plainly, and then added, “Is that clear?” Without waiting for any acknowledgment, he turned in the direction of the door and left immediately.
Raphael was scared and angry. More than that, though, he was confused and seriously injured. He called his friend Leo to come over, and within ten minutes of his friend’s arrival, they were off to the emergency room of the Los Angeles County Hospital. In the six hours he was being treated there, Raphael was examined by several doctors and medical personnel to determine the full extent of his injuries. Various tests along with X-rays were taken, and then he was also given two types of intravenous drugs. It was obvious that he was bleeding internally because the inside of his right leg, at his crotch, was swelling up, creating a sack of fluid. His testicles were so painful and enlarged that he thought his injuries would be permanent.
The following day he visited his family doctor for further treatment, and, in fact, in the ten days that followed his attack, he made another visit to emergency and three additional visits to his own doctor. The sack of fluid, probably mostly blood, had formed into a very hard, long, slender eggplant-colored configuration that ran from his crotch to just above his knee. As the various medications were judged to be ineffective in dissipating the contents of the eggplant formation, it became apparent that surgery would be needed to remove it. That surgery was performed about three weeks after he was assaulted.
Mr. Monterey informed me of this incident when he called the Hate Crime Reporting line. As it’s monitor it is my task, among other responsibilities, to record hate crimes against the gay community. Since police departments generally were doing a poor job of responding to these types of crimes, certain minority groups have sought to provide their own system for recording and tracking these crimes. Thus, in August 1990, the gay community instituted this “hotline,” or more accurately, a Hate Crimes Reporting line to help do the job.
Raphael called the day after the assault, to express his concern that he may be evicted by his landlords and to ask me if I felt he was subject to arrest because of the incident. Upon hearing the details as recorded here, I was appalled by the police officer’s behavior. In addition, Raphael, who was clearly the victim of a brutal assault, was talking as if he were responsible for his own beating. He was not aware of his rights as a tenant in the City of Long Beach nor of his protection against discrimination under city ordinances as a gay person. He is protected further as a person with AIDS because another City ordinance includes specific nondiscrimination clauses on that ground.
It’s horrifying to think that not only individual citizens violate the rights of others based on sexual orientation, but that our civil institutions, such as police departments, do also. Within one hour of Mr. Monterey’s phone call to me, I contacted a commander in the Long Beach Police Department and informed him of what I was told by the victim. The commander, who sounded dismayed, took down the facts including day, time, names, addresses, and so on, and promised to get back to me by the next day. He didn’t, and I began to worry that the Monterey case would not be taken seriously.
Two days later, I made a follow-up call to Mr. Monterey, and another to the commander, and I began to appreciate the complexity of the process under way. Because of officer peer pressure and a “brotherhood” mentality, the unwritten laws that prevent one officer for countermanding another, it would not have been “permissible” for a second officer to go out to interview Mr. Monterey and to come up with a report contradicting the first officer, especially if the first officer were senior to the second.
Apparently (and I say apparently because I had to piece together my information from various sources) the commander sent out a hand-picked officer to interview Mr. Monterey but instructed the officer not to make an official report. That officer did as he was told and immediately reported back to the commander what he learned after talking to Mr. Monterey and examining the physical evidence, namely facial bruises, photos of the groin injuries, and pages of medical bills resulting from two visits to the emergency room and to his family doctor. The extent of Mr. Monterey’s injuries must have been quite convincing because the officer, at this point, did not need to talk with the witness who lived across the street or to the Banners.
A meeting took place between the commander, his superiors, and personnel from internal affairs. The result was that two officers, also hand-picked, were sent out to interview Mr. Monterey again. This time these officers were instructed to file a complete and official crime report. My mentioning that these officers were specially chosen for this task should not be interpreted to imply that randomly selected officers would not do their duty. However, under these circumstances, these officers were going to be participating in a process that may lead to a fellow officer being disciplined. That is not an easy thing to do in a one-hand-washes-the-other system of officer teamwork. And it would be naive to think that newly sworn officers could handle such a situation without at least emotional repercussions.
The officer who originally responded to the Monterey beating was judged to have violated proper police procedures and was punished for his misconduct. To what degree he was punished, we, the public, are not allowed to know due to state and federal laws which protect the confidentiality of police officers. As for the Banners, charges were filed for assault with intent to do great bodily injury. They were arrested but later released from custody because there was no indication that they would leave the area or that they would instigate additional acts of violence against Raphael Monterey. Their trial is pending.
“Gay bashing” is frequently experienced in Long Beach and likely in every American city, large and small. Larger urban areas have more incidents because gays and lesbians tend to move to the cities where more progressive thinking people live; where they feel they are more likely to be allowed to live in peace. In addition, urban areas have more gay and lesbian rights laws and protective organizations which call the public’s attention to this type of violence, so that more pressure may be brought to bear to stop it. Even though only a very small percentage of hate crimes against gays and lesbians are reported in any city (I’ll explain why a little later on), it is quite obvious, based on reports by third-party witnesses, that these assaults occur almost daily in metropolitan areas. If we add non-assault hate crimes such as telephone harassment, threats of violence, vandalism, hate mail, and so on, the frequency of hate crimes rises to many times each and every day. (Just as a point of clarification, discrimination, per se, is not listed as a hate crime unless it includes physical violence or property damage.)
During the first two years of my guardianship of the Hate Crimes Reporting line for the gay community of Long Beach, I saw some patterns and statistics developing that would show that the circumstances under which Mr. Monterey was beaten were not characteristic of gay bashing. Most violence against gays occurs in the vicinity of businesses, mainly bars and discos frequented by gay men. Seldom is gay bashing the result of a spontaneous argument. It is, rather, the result of acting out a premeditated attack; and it is often committed with impunity.
2. Bashing: The Broadway Clowns
A second example of gay bashing came from a young straight black woman who called me while I was in the process of writing these very pages. She projected a feisty attitude which seemed to increase her level of anxiety. I call her Street Watcher because she has a habit of identifying people by their descriptive characteristics rather than by names, as you will soon see. She was finally determined to do something about the violence she had been witnessing on Broadway in the vicinity of The Mother Lode, a gay bar. I could tell by the strained tone of her voice that she was not only enraged at seeing a gay man get beat up but that she was also feeling angry with herself for not reporting past beatings she had seen, due to her feeling intimidated by the assailants. This latest incident must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Street Watcher was venting all of her hostility and frustration at me, which I don’t mind callers doing. Because of her agitated state, her colorful expressions, and her accent, it took a while for me to understand that she was describing a group of cohorts she called the Broadway Clowns who meet routinely and discuss when and how they’re going to “kick some faggot ass.” Apparently, the Broadway Clowns think of gay bashing as an evening’s entertainment. I felt I had to go to the scene and talk to Street Watcher in person. I made arrangements to meet her in front of The Mother Lode in forty-five minutes. We exchanged a brief self-description for quick identification.
“Jack! I’m glad you’re here.” She yelled out to me as I neared her on foot, having parked my “Zee” around the corner. “I can explain it to you better face to face.” Street Watcher added, in between nervous puffs on her cigarette. She was a well-groomed attractive young woman who wore shiny, purple pants and a white blouse and appeared to be both kind and conscientious. I glanced around at the familiar older apartment buildings amid the numerous businesses in this densely and predominantly gay and lesbian populated area, wondering which one housed the culprits. Like most gay and lesbian sections in other metropolitan areas, this one was well maintained, with various commercial and residential structures being remodeled. I took out my pad and pencil and asked her to start from the beginning and to speak slowly, bracing myself for a documentary of horror.
“All right, you see that apartment buildin’ right there on the corner.” She pointed it out using the hand that held her cigarette and using it as a stubby pointer. “Right there on those front porch steps is where the Broadway Clowns meet. They all live in that buildin’. And believe me, they are a side show. They’re the type of white trash that sits around all day and watch that jerk, er, Wally George, on TV, screaming, `You tell ’em, Wally! Rank on them fags!’ That jerk! All right, I was walking my little puppy as usual about 10 p.m. last night and I was on the other side of the street, about where that pole is,” she nodded her head in its direction, “When I heard these guys ranking on the gays. They were all drunk, they’re always drunk when they’re together. Believe me, with these tall concrete buildin’s it makes like an echo chamber around here. Honey, I live right there, if my windas are open, I can hear everything they say, loud and clear. All right, I heard Fat Man (Caucasian, 29, 5′ 11″, 275 lbs., curly brown hair [never combed], single, unemployed, talks in a high-pitched voice, and is the most disgusting, sleazy, sloppy, dirty of the bunch) say that he had a gun, a 45, and that they ought to go over to Cherry Avenue and shoot some faggots in the ass. He was inviting the Guy Who Beats His Dog (Caucasian, 32, 5′ 10″, 140 lbs., short brown hair, wears glasses sometimes, single, no personality, dirty, a real loser and a slob, punches his dog and keeps it in his van) to join him. The more they talked, the more developed their plan got. I stayed where I was for about half an hour, just list’nin’. I couldn’t get too many details, but the shootin’ is set for this Friday night. I’ve lived here for five years and I’ve stood by and watched these turkeys raise hell and never did anything about it, but when I heard about the gun, I’ve got to tell somebody, Jack.” Street Watcher looked at me for a reaction.
I returned her look, and then gestured to some steps where we could sit while we continued our conversation. “Look, I know you said you didn’t want to call the police, but I’d like you to hold off on that conclusion for the moment. Let us finish our talk, I need to hear the details on the beating you told me about on the phone, and then I will give you the name of a commander at the Long Beach Police Department whom I work with and whom I’ve come to trust, and I’m going to ask you to call him directly and report these things. However, the shooting planned for this Friday I’ll report to the police as soon as I return home. There is no need to mention your name. You know that we need to do at least this.” I said. She nodded in agreement, and I ask her to tell me the rest of it.
“All right, about ten days ago I was asleep in my apartment, and they woke me up with all their yelling about 1:30 a.m. They were very drunk and very loud. I got up and went to my winda to take a look at what was happenin’. I heard them talking about `faggots’ this and `faggots’ that. They were laughing and carrying on. They were so noisy, I didn’t even try to go back to bed. I sat in my chair by the winda which gives me a full view of the street and all these buildin’s. That’s my winda there, with the shade half ways down? All right, at about, er, it must have been about two, because The Mother Lode was closing because the last gays were coming out of that bar and just standin’ there on the sidewalk talking. Actually, they drifted over to in front of the liquor store here on the corner.” Street Watcher stopped to stump on her finished cigarette and then continued.
“That’s when I saw the Tall Dumb One (Caucasian, 34, 6′ 2”, 220 lbs, brown hair, single, unemployed, acts wimpy in the daytime when not drunk, apathetic, grubby, friendless follower-type known as the “bulldozer”) down on the street walking about a half a block away. All right, I knew what he’s doin’. I’ve seen it before. And sure enough, about a half a block away, he stops walking away from the group of gay guys and turns to face them. They don’t see him yet, but he makes fists with his hands and puts both of them on his chest, holding his elbows straight out from the sides of his body, like this.” She demonstrated the bulldozer configuration, forming protruding triangles at each side of her chest. “And then he charges the group of gay guys as fast as he can, running, plowin’ through them, tryin’ to knock over as many as he can. That night there were eight gay guys out there in front of the liquor store and he knocked down two of them. And when he does this, they just look stunned. They really don’t react very fast because they’ve been drinking too. All they could manage to do was yell at the Tall Dumb One, `You fucking asshole!’ But he keeps running because that’s the only thing he does. That’s his job. And he keeps on running all the way ’round the block, and he’ll come back walkin’.” She explained, in a manner that suggested that this was well rehearsed and replayed many times over.
“That’s his `job’?” I interjected.
“Honey, that’s it! All right, and when he comes all the way around the block he goes to stand in front of The Mother Lode, like always, while the other two, Fat Man and the Little Muscular Guy (Caucasian, 30, 5′ 9”, 165 lbs., light brown hair, acne scars, married, abuses his wife and 5 children ages 2 to 9, was the landlord but later fired, taught his children to call gays “faggots,” seems like an over-stressed time bomb), as usual, went over to the gay guys and said, “What did you say to my friend?!” Fat Man and the Little Muscular Guy always go up to the smallest of the gay guys and pick on him. Then it’s the Little Muscular Guy’s job to begin pushing the smallest gay guy.” Again, she used the word “job” as if the entire event was being acted out repeatedly. “After the `bulldozer’ plowed through, the gay guys moved to congregate next door in front of the tailor shop. The Little Muscular Guy pushed the smallest gay guy right into the tailor shop’s security bars. That musta really hurt him, because his arms got thrown back in the process. He yelled out something as he fell to the ground. But then he got up. He was drunk, so that gave him more courage to stand up and fight both the Little Muscular Guy and Fat Man. The Tall Dumb One comes over to watch. All right, when the gay guy got up, the Little Muscular Guy slugged him hard in the stomach and he fell to the ground again. And when he was down again, Fat Man started kicking him on the left side of his body. He kicked him in the side of his rib cage, in the shoulder, and on the right side of his face.”
“Were there witnesses to all of this? What happened to all the gay guys who were originally in front of the liquor store?” I had to ask, though I didn’t want to stop Street Watcher’s momentum.
“Yeah. All right, there were eight gay guys altogether, but as soon as the Tall Dumb One bulldozed his way through them, knocking two down, six of the eight left. They just walked away. So when the other two Broadway Clowns came over, there was only the smallest gay guy they were beatin’ up and his friend. Honey, the friend was so scared he just sat at the bus stop and was just shakin’ his head. I don’t know if he was crying, but he was just frozen there. The Tall Dumb One yelled out something like, `Hey! There’s his faggot friend!’ pointin’ to the guy on the bus stop bench. So Fat Man and the Little Muscular Guy turn their attention to that one.”
“Did anyone call the police?” I said `anyone’ so as not to put her on the spot, knowing from our phone conversation that she wanted to remain anonymous.
“Oh, yeah. I had the police on the phone as soon as the Little Muscular Guy pushed the gay guy into the tailor shop’s bars. I was telling them what was happening, tryin’ to get them out here.” Street Watcher paused to regain her train of thought which I had interrupted. “And I found out a little later that the gay guy with glasses and thinning blonde hair who lives down there in that buildin’ with his friend, saw everythin’ and he called the police too from the phone booth there ‘crosst the street. And there were a few people standing in that entrance way, way over there, they’re witnesses too.” She hesitated and continued again. “All right, so as soon as Fat Man and the Little Muscular Guy went for the gay guy on the bench, the guy who was just beat up got up and took off running down Broadway in the middle of the street. One car swerved to just miss him. So the Tall Dumb One yells out, `There he goes!’ And then all three members of the Broadway Clowns took out after him, also running down the middle of the street. Honey, that gay guy was running in fear of his life and screaming for help all the way.
“What happened to the fourth member of `the Clowns’?”
Oh, the Guy Who Beats His Dog? He wasn’t there that night. Anyway, I told the police that they were running East down Broadway. They kept me on the phone and within a minute, the cop on the phone said, `We got them. We got the suspects.'” She yielded to silence. The expression on her face signaled that she relived that moment of emotional satisfaction.
“Good!” I exclaimed as I smiled at Street Watcher. “You mean we finally won one?” I thought to myself. They caught the bastards! Finally, they’re going to get what’s coming to them. We have a victim, we have witnesses, and the police apprehended the Broadway Clowns — at least three of them! I thought to myself, this is certainly going to go down as a hate crime and that means that they will have additional time added to their sentences. And, because it was three against one, and because it was all planned out, “premeditated,” and because they kicked him in the head; this is not just a misdemeanor hate crime assault, it’s an assault with intent to do great bodily injury, that’s a felony! That closes down the Broadway Clowns for at least a year!
“Honey, let me tell you, I was feelin’ pretty good, saying to myself `Good! They got ’em!’ and getting ready to go back to bed. When, all of a sudden, I heard the Broadway Clowns right outside my winda again. They were laughin’ and braggin’. I returned to the winda and saw them standing right on the corner. And they were laughing about how stupid the cops were, `Stupid dumb cops.'” Street Watcher spoke in a slurring, arrogant tone to mimic the speech of the assailants she was quoting. “`They asked me for my ID and I told them I didn’t have any on me.’ Honey and they told how they gave fake names, and how the cops were so stupid. Fat Man tells the Little Muscular Guy, `God, I can’t believe the way you threw him against the bars. You got him good!’ And, `I wonder if we fucked him up.’ Fat Man says, `Did you see me kick him in the face?’ They went on and so forth.” Street Watcher shook her head slowly back and forth, exhausting deeply. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just waited for her to speak again.
“Then I got back on the phone to the cops. I didn’t call 911 this time and called the regular number. I told the lady cop that I had just called ’bout fifteen minutes ago and reported a gay bashing. And they came back. You guys said you caught the suspects, but they’re right here! Right now! Here they are again and they’re laughin’, they’re laughin’ at the cops, honey, they’re laughin’ at you guys because they got away with it! She put me on hold for a moment and came back on the line to tell me that no one pressed charges.”
We just sat there on the stoop in silence. I was biting my lower lip and staring at my hands as I methodically rubbed the palm of one hand with the fingertips of the other, wondering when will all this violence end.
3. Bashing: A Right of Passage
“Hello. You must be Rick Herski.” My generally cheery demeanor subsided in seeing the black and blue marks on the young man’s face. Suddenly I felt great sympathy. “Thank you for stopping by to talk with me in more detail.” I opened the screen door and ushered him in. He was a man of medium height with slender build, light complexion, wire-rimmed eyeglasses, thinning chestnut hair who carried himself with self-assurance.
“Well, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what you said over the phone. I have to admit, I never thought about being beat up until it happened to me.” Rick said with a slight east coast accent. We sat at the dining room table. He winced and made an “ouch” gesture as he slowly removed his glasses and lightly touched the bridge of his nose where one of the bruises was. “I don’t normally wear glasses anymore, but my doctor suggested I not wear my contact lenses for a few days.”
“I’m sorry this happened to you.” I paused to reflect on my next words, wanting to be sure I was being sensitive to the feelings of this beating victim. “As I mentioned over the phone, I’d like to write about your incident and use it for a dual purpose. First to let straight society know what some of its members are doing to gay people. I want straights to understand that when they reject, condemn gays, or tell “fag jokes,” or simply pass on gay myths as truths, they are, wittingly or not, supporting gay bashing. They are lending `moral’ support to the mentally unemployed characters of our society who believe `it’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it.’ And when the good citizens of our city raise no protest or even eyebrows at the brutality inflicted on gays and lesbians, the vigilantes see it as tacit approval to carry out `justice.'” Rick listened intently as I continued speaking.
“Second, I want to inform the gay community and make it fully aware of what is going on out there, and to suggest ways in which they can help deter hate crimes, especially by reporting them to the police and to our hotline.” Rick looked at me as if he was beginning to understand. All of this fits together in a way that requires all of us to take an active role in stopping these attacks. He seemed at ease, fuelled now with a more defined purpose, and ready to begin telling of his assault.
“Well, it was about 9:30 p.m. on Friday. I was going to the Beach House Disco. I pulled my car into the beach front parking lot, the one across from the Beach House, and parked. It was a quiet clear night, and in the moonlight, I could see for miles along the beach. I turned to see who it was I heard approaching behind me. I saw these two older teenage guys climb over that four-foot block wall adjacent to the street, and continue in my direction. They were typically dressed teenagers, kind of new wave. They didn’t look hostile at all, in fact, I just assumed that were two gay guys out for a walk along the beach. Each was about five foot ten inches and each one was fairly trim. They just walked up to me.
They said hello and then the one said, `Could you give us a dollar?’ I said no, and asked them why they need “a dollar,” and the one guy said that his girlfriend needs it for an abortion. He spoke in an Australian accent. In fact, they both did even though the second one was Asian. He, the Asian guy, had very dark skin and short black hair. Short all over except for a long thin ponytail in the back that hung half way to his butt. The other, who was a somewhat frizzy, reddish haired Caucasian, wore a white baseball cap with the brim to the back and a large, four-inch wooden cross hanging on a light weight rope very low on his chest, almost down to his stomach. Well, because of the abortion comment, I realized that they were not gay.” Rick chuckled.
“They asked me what I was doing there. I was just standing by my car. I told them I was just waiting for someone and hoped they would just move along. And the white guy says, `You’re a faggot, aren’t you?’ `I’m gay if that’s what you mean,’ I told them. Then the Asian looked at me kind of bland-like and said, `So you’re not going to give us a dollar, huh?’ And at that point, I thought they were just going to walk away. I mean even the way they said `faggot’ didn’t signal any warning of what was to come next.”
“And what came next?” I prompted.
“I was totally unprepared for being assaulted because I didn’t even see the first punch. In fact, I don’t think they even hit me first. I think the Asian guy knocked my legs out from under me because I was immediately down on the concrete, and they were both just kicking me in the face and on the side of the head. They must have kicked me about ten times. It’s really weird because you just feel the shock of the blows, it’s like upon the immediate impact you just feel numb shock rather than pain. I was totally taken by surprise and I scrambled to try to get myself up and they just kept kicking me in the face again and I screamed for help. The whole attack was probably only 30 seconds, but it seemed like a lot longer while it was happening.” Rick was getting more excited as he relived the event and in telling me the details. He talked faster as he continued.
“All of a sudden, they just stopped kicking me, and started to walk away, and I was so angry I stood up and held my fist in the air at them! And the one guy looks back at me and says, `What are you going to do faggot, beat me up?’ I just held my ground and yelled `I’ll kill you if you come back here!’ I just held my ground and they just continued to walk away. They weren’t even running away, they were just walking away. I noticed that they must have kicked me in the eye in such a way that my contact lens was knocked out. Luckily I found it.” He hesitated.
“Would you say that they were motivated by wanting money from you, because if so, it may go down as an attempted robbery, rather than as a hate crime?” I asked.
“The whole time they were kicking me in the face they were screaming `Fagot! Fagot!’ with all this hatred in their voices. It’s clearly a hate crime because they did not try to take my wallet. They could have easily done it, but the whole thing was just hatred, pure hatred.” He looked at his wrist, and added, “Even my watch broke off and was laying right there on the concrete. They didn’t want that either.”
“Were there witnesses, Rick?”
“There were a few people in the parking lot at the time. In particular, there were two guys each in their own cars not far away, just talking to each other. I went up to them afterward and asked, `Did you see what happened?’ And they said `yeah.’ And I said, `Why didn’t you do anything?’ They said by the time we noticed what was going on the guys were already climbing back over the wall, back onto the boulevard. I don’t even believe that because when I was screaming for help, they were still kicking me quite a few blows afterward, and I was screaming for help and afterward these guys didn’t run away, they just walked away. And I was so pissed off because the guys in their cars were facing me the whole time! What did they think they were doing, watching a drive-in movie? They didn’t even come over to me afterward like I had to go up to them. Jack, that hurt more than anything!”
I just looked at Rick and shook my head. I realize standing up to thugs takes some measure of courage, but I wonder when we, as a community, will earn the name, “community,” because part of what that word implies is standing together. As a “community,” when one member is attacked as a “faggot” all members are attacked. When one individual stands up for himself, he stands up for all members at the same time. Fortunately, more and more, gays are coming to the same conclusion that we must not allow ourselves to become willing or helpless victims. And, it is becoming easier and easier as more gays and lesbians unite under the banner of “community.”
“And I said to the two guys in the cars, `If you had one ounce of self-respect in you, you would have at least comeover and said something. And then the one guy got really mad at me. You know, it’s like I must have struck a responsive chord because he got really mad at me and started yelling at me. The concern I got from my friends the next day, my friends who really know me, made up for that, but that is what hurt the most.”
“What did you do next. Did you or anyone else call the police?” I asked, trying to prompt a positive response by nodding my head.
“No. I went over to my best friend’s house. As soon as she opened the door and saw me, she became very upset and concerned as she stared at the damage to my face. She’s my best friend in all the world and she began to doctor me up. As she was doing that I was talking out all my anger. And she was very sympathetic. It’s interesting because I just started a new job last week and I discussed with her how my new manager at this job has been making bigoted comments all week long. He knows that I’m half Jewish. He knows that I’m gay. He hasn’t made an anti-Jewish or anti-gay comment to my face yet, but I know he’s made them behind my back. He makes bigoted comments about Asians, Blacks, just about every other group on a daily basis. And I just find it so annoying, but I’ve been ignoring him.
“I’m thinking now that I’m so angry about THIS how can I tolerate his bigotry. So, this came to a head in my mind, that this week, when I go back to work, when this guy starts up again, I’m going to say, `Look! Look at these cuts and bruises on my face that I’ve suffered and it’s because of the hatred that exists in our society. When people make statements, the statements like you’ve been making, it makes other people feel justified to go out and doing this to someone.'” He stated in a now louder tone, raising both his hands with his fingers pointing to the bruises on his face. “And I really believe that, that there’s a thin line between people hearing bigoted statements and they’re going out to do violence. And I’m going to point that out to him and tell him that I feel very uncomfortable when he makes those bigoted statements.”
“After your friend cleaned you up, what did you do?” I asked, wanting to know if the police ever got involved and if Rick received proper medical treatment.
“Karen and I talked for a couple of hours, and I felt a little better after that. I went home to my apartment about 1:15 a.m., and when I got home, I looked at my face in the mirror for the first time. I thought to myself that this doesn’t look very good. It felt numb and throbbing, and it looked even worse. I got scared. The thing I was most concerned about though was that my hearing was impaired in my right ear. It’s like I have water in my ear is what it feels like. I was very concerned about that, about losing my hearing, and my right cheek was swollen very badly. So I was debating whether or not to go to the hospital, thinking that maybe I wasn’t injured seriously enough to go, but maybe the hearing injury might mean I’d lose my hearing.
As I continued to stare at myself in the mirror I started to feel real angry again that I could be victimized like this and just so violated! I was in a gay environment, minding my own business, I felt safe, and I have these bastards come up to me like that. And I remembered reading about gay bashing being on the rise and laws being passed to increase penalties for those who commit hate crimes, and I thought this is important. It’s important that I go to the police and report this as a hate crime. And that’s what I did. I drove to the Long Beach Police Station, I walked in, I said, `This is what happened to me, I want to report it as a hate crime.’ The officer at the desk suggested that I go to the hospital since I wasn’t sure how badly I was hurt. I did, and they met me over there and took the report there at Long Beach Memorial.”
“What was the attitude of the officers you talked to there?”
“Well, there were two. The one guy who took the report was, ah, he seemed genuinely concerned and sympathetic and I was glad he was taking the report. The other officer was okay, but he obviously felt uncomfortable with me. And since I insisted on reporting it as a hate crime, apparently they are required to call in a sergeant. So after I had been treated in the hospital and had the x-rays and stuff, and the doctor told me that my ear drum had hemorrhaged and might be punctured, the sergeant came in. He seemed unconcerned, but he did his job, he did the paperwork.
“How has this affected what you think about violence in the gay community ?” I wanted to know what this beating had done to his attitudes.
“It’s really made me want to be actively involved in helping to stop these beatings. And I heard of a community patrol being organized to patrol along Broadway, and I want to connect with that, even if I can only donate time one night a month.” Then without pause, his expression changed, “Also, as a result of explaining this incident to some family and relatives, including my favorite aunt, I came out to them as a gay person. I just told them what happened and where I was, and that they kept calling me `faggot’ as they kicked me. Some of my family knew previously, but others didn’t. In the end, they all supported me. And that was good. Now I can talk to my family about the more personal aspects of my life. Yes.” He reflected with a smile. “But on the anti-violence things, I’m not going to go overboard and burn myself out, but I know I can do something. And I will.” Rick made a promise that he soon carried out.