Gay Men Attacked in Michigan, Buffalo NY

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 5, 2010

Police have apprehended suspects in a pair of hate crimes that targeted gay men. The assaults took place in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York.

The Benton Harbor, MI incident involved two men, one of whom reportedly attacked the other at around 6:00 a.m. on Dec. 12 at a gas station, according to a Jan. 5 South Bend Tribune article. Neither man was identified in the newspaper article. Police said the 23-year-old assailant uttered anti-gay slurs as he struck the victim, 54, in the face.

The attacker remained at large for several weeks before he was arrested at a fast food establishment elsewhere in the town, which is located on Lake Michigan. A police sketch of the suspect was published on Dec. 31 in local newspaper the Herald-Palladium, but it was security camera footage that eventually helped police track and identify the assailant.

The victim reported the attack to local GLBT resource OutCenter, which renounced the beating in media releases. The victim told authorities and OutCenter that he had gotten out of his car at a Sunoco gas station when the younger man walked up to him, asked him, "What's up?" and then launched into the attack, punching and kicking the older man while screaming anti-gay slurs. The assailant then left the scene.

"The victim was dazed from the blow and tried to make it to the entrance of the gas station but slipped on the ice and fell. The subject punched and kicked him several times," said Benton Township Police Chief Vincent Fetke. The victim received medial attention at the scene of the attack.

The incident was the second anti-gay assault to take place in the area in a three-week period, reported On Top Magazine in a Dec. 22 article. The previous attack too place in the town of St. Joseph.

In November, voters in Kalamazoo, MI, declined to repeal a city ordinance protecting GLBT residents from discrimination. Debate over the ordinance was fractious from the start, with opponents presenting anti-gay slide shows at public hearings even as the city council debated whether to approve the measure. The political friction was blamed as one possible factor in an attack carried out by two teens against a 15-year old in neighboring Portage last summer, an Aug. 20, 2009 article in local newspaper the Michigan Messenger reported.

Stephen Harmon, a gay teen, was targeted by a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old and beaten so badly that he suffered a skull fracture. Local GLBT groups condemned the assault and noted that anti-gay attacks seem to "spike" during public debates about GLBT protections and equal legal recognition. The article noted that similar surges in threats, intimidation, and violence against gays had taken place in Gainesville, Florida, when a similar anti-discrimination ordinance was being debated, and in California during the anti-gay Proposition 8 campaign that revoked the previously existing right to marriage for gay and lesbian families.

Michigan law does not prosecute hate crimes against gays, though state lawmakers have sought to expand the state's Ethnic Intimidation Act to cover GLBTs.

Another attack took place New Year's Eve at a mall in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, reported The Buffalo News in a Jan. 5 article. 18-year-old Joy Darden and 19-year-old Deonna Burnett, both of Buffalo, were arrested for threatening, beating, and robbing a 20-year-old man, also from Buffalo. The women used anti-gay epithets in the course of their attack, and are suspected of damaging and vandalizing his car.

"This seems to be pretty unusual," Cheektowaga police Capt. James Speyer said. "This was definitely hate motivated."

The article said that the victim, who was not named, was harassed while in the Walden Galleria mall by about 10 people, who reportedly belong to a gang. The women followed the man out of the mall and attacked him with pepper spray. They then punched and kicked him, and stole a bag containing valuable items, including jewelry and money. The stolen goods valued more than $1,000, leading to charges of grand larceny. Burnett was also charged for possession of marijuana.

The women also face possible hate crime charges, which could lead to a harsher penalty if they are convicted.

The woman also told mall security that the victim had been the one who had attacked them. "The offenders said, 'We were jumped by this guy,'" Speyer told the media. "Through our investigating and talking to witnesses we learned it was in fact the other way around."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.