Tag Archives: attacks

Before Orlando: A look at violence targeting LGBT venues

At least 50 people were killed and at least 53 were wounded at the Pulse gay nightclub June 12 in Orlando, Florida. The shooter died during a shootout with SWAT team members. A look at prior incidents of violence at LGBT venues since 1973.

• Dec. 31, 2013: About 750 people were celebrating New Year’s Eve at a popular gay nightclub in Seattle when Musab Mohammed Masmari poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway and set it ablaze. No one was injured. Masmari was arrested a month later as he prepared to leave the country. He apologized in a statement to the court and said he didn’t remember his actions because he blacked out after drinking a bottle of cheap whiskey. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson.

• March 1, 2009: Three men threw rocks into a gay bar in Galveston, Texas, injuring two male patrons. Brothers Lawrence Lewis III, 20 and Lawrneil Lewis, 18, along with their cousin Sam Gray, 17, were charged with a hate crime for throwing the rocks, which were apparently being used as doorstops, into Robert’s Lafitte bar.

• Sept 22, 2000: Ronald Gay walked into the Backstreet Cafe, a gay bar in Roanoke, Virginia, and opened fire, killing one man and wounding six other patrons, two of them seriously. Gay, a 55-year-old drifter who told police he was upset over the slang connotation of his last name, pleaded guilty to the murder of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet and was sentenced to four life terms.

• Feb. 21, 1997: A nail-laden device exploded in a back room of the Otherside Lounge, a nightclub in Atlanta with a mostly gay and lesbian clientele. The lounge was crowded with about 150 people when the device went off on a rear patio. Five people were wounded. Eric Rudolph was later convicted for the bombing as well as bombings at Centennial Olympic Park and abortion clinics in suburban Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. The 1996 Olympics bombing killed one person and wounded 111, and the Birmingham bombing killed a police officer and maimed a nurse. Rudolph is serving four life sentences in federal prison.

– June 24, 1973: The Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans’ French Quarter killed 32 people. Most of those killed were trapped by burglar bars on three front windows. A survivor said he believed someone dashed an inflammable liquid on the wooden stairway to the crowded second-floor lounge and lit it. The arsonist was never caught.

Not included here are the many acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals.

German police say New Year’s sexual assaults may be linked to crime ring

Police in Germany said they are investigating whether a string of sexual assaults and thefts during New Year’s celebrations in Cologne is linked to a known criminal network in the nearby city of Duesseldorf.

The assaults last week have prompted outrage in Germany and a fresh debate about immigration, after police said the perpetrators appeared to be of “Arab or North African origin.”

A more nuanced picture of what happened in the New Year’s Eve chaos outside the Cologne train station emerged on Jan. 6.

Police said about 1,000 men gathered there and that smaller groups surrounded individual women, harassed them and stole their belongings. Police do not believe all 1,000 men were involved in the attacks, though they have not said how many were.

The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where Cologne and Duesseldorf are located, told news agency dpa that police have identified three suspects but have not yet arrested anyone.

About 90 people filed criminal complaints, though police have not said how many of them were women who were sexually assaulted. At least one woman said she was raped.

Police said some of the assaults in Cologne appeared similar to incidents that have been reported over the past two years in Duesseldorf, where men have groped women to distract them before stealing their belongings. The two cities are 25 miles apart.

Duesseldorf police were working closely with their counterparts in Cologne to determine whether crimes in the two cities might be connected.

Cologne police have faced criticism for their response to the New Year’s Eve assaults, the scale of which emerged only slowly. On Jan. 1, they issued a statement saying that the celebrations had been “largely peaceful.”

Mayor Henriette Reker said she expected police to analyze what went wrong and “draw consequences from that.”

She didn’t elaborate on what that would entail. Police chief Wolfgang Albers has shrugged off questions about his own future, saying that he will stay in his post.

Reker herself was mocked on social media for saying, when asked about what women can do to protect themselves better: “There is always the possibility of keeping a certain distance, more than an arm’s length” from strangers.

Some of those who criticized her felt that Reker was blaming women for the attacks and lambasted the idea that women could have simply protected themselves by keeping men at arm’s length.

Reker said that she regretted any misunderstanding, but had merely been pointing to existing prevention and counseling programs in response to a journalist’s question.

“The priority is for concrete security to be provided on our streets and squares,” she said in a statement.

Authorities have cautioned that the nationality and residency status of the Cologne suspects is still unknown, since no one has been arrested.

Germany’s top security official stressed that those involved must be punished regardless of where they come from. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that “you cannot draw a general suspicion against refugees from the indications that they were perhaps people who looked North African.”

He added that “a bit of patience is necessary to clear up as completely as possible the structure of the perpetrators and the organizational structures there might have been,” including whether there was any link to similar, smaller-scale incidents on New Year’s Eve in Hamburg.

Secretary of State John Kerry: On Charlie Hebdo, freedom and violence

Secretary of State John Kerry met in Washington, D.C., with Poland’s foreign minister to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and Poland. At a meeting with the press on Jan. 7, Kerry began with a statement about the attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Here are his remarks:

I would like to say directly to the people of Paris and of all of France that each and every American stands with you today, not just in horror or in anger or in outrage for this vicious act of violence, though we stand with you in solidarity and in commitment both to the cause of confronting extremism and in the cause which the extremists fear so much and which has always united our two countries: freedom.

No country knows better than France that freedom has a price, because France gave birth to democracy itself. France sparked so many revolutions of the human spirit, borne of freedom and of free expression, and that is what the extremists fear the most. They may wield weapons, but we in France and in the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful – not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear. Free expression and a free press are core values, they are universal values; principles that can be attacked but never eradicated, because brave and decent people around the world will never give in to the intimidation and the terror that those seeking to destroy those values employ.

I agree with the French imam who today called the slain journalists martyrs for liberty. Today’s murders are part of a larger confrontation, not between civilizations — no — but between civilization itself and those who are opposed to a civilized world. The murderers dared proclaim “Charlie Hebdo is dead,” but make no mistake: They are wrong. Today, tomorrow, in Paris, in France, or across the world, the freedom of expression that this magazine, no matter what your feelings were about it, the freedom of expression that it represented is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror. On the contrary; it will never be eradicated by any act of terror. What they don’t understand – what these people who do these things don’t understand – is they will only strengthen the commitment to that freedom and our commitment to a civilized world.

I’d like to just say a quick word, if I may, directly to the people of France.

(In French.)

We wish our friends in France well, and we stand in strong solidarity with them.

Court overturns hate-crime convictions in Amish hair attacks

Personal conflict, not religion, was the driving motive behind beard- and hair-cutting attacks targeting Amish, an appeals court panel ruled on Aug. 27 in overturning the hate-crime convictions of 16 men and women.

A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel sided with arguments brought by attorneys for the Amish defendants, who were convicted two years ago in five attacks in 2011. The attacks were in apparent retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced the authoritarian style of Sam Mullet Sr., leader of the Bergholz community in eastern Ohio.

In a deeply divided decision, two of the three judges on the panel concluded that the jury received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks. They also said prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn’t have happened but for religious motives.

“When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants’ theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims’ religious beliefs, sparked the attacks,” the judges wrote.

They said it was unfair to conclude that “because faith permeates most, if not all, aspects of life in the Amish community, it necessarily permeates the motives for the assaults in this case.”

Church leaders, “whether Samuel Mullet or Henry VIII, may do things, including committing crimes or even creating a new religion, for irreligious reasons,” they wrote.

Mullet has served nearly three years of his 15-year sentence, while seven other men in the community are serving between five and seven years in prison. The other eight Amish convicted in the attacks either already served one year in prison and have returned to their communities or are about to be released from two-year sentences.

Defense attorney Wendi Overmyer, who represents the Amish, said she likely would be seeking the release of Mullet and the seven other men as the government considers its appeal options.

“Sam and the rest of the defendants pose no danger to the community, they don’t pose a flight risk,” she said. “They’re needed at their homes.”

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said prosecutors are “reviewing the opinion and considering our options.”

“We respectfully disagree with the two judges who reversed the defendants’ hate crime convictions based on a jury instruction,” he said. “We remain in awe of the courage of the victims in this case, who were subject to violent attacks by the defendants.”

Amish, who live in rural communities organized around bishops, dress and live simply and shun many aspects of the modern age such as electricity, refrigeration and computers. They don’t drive and often get around in horse-drawn buggies or by paying drivers to shuttle them places.

They believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it is considered shameful and doing so forcibly is considered offensive.

In a strong dissenting opinion of the 6th Circuit’s Wednesday ruling, Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. wrote that religion was a clear motive for the 2011 attacks and that the hate-crime convictions were appropriate, especially against Mullet.

Sargus quoted several statements made by Mullet acknowledging his religious motivations, including in an interview with The Associated Press in which he said that the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to the Amish community and that he should be allowed to punish people who break church laws.

The convictions of members of the Bergholz community marked the first involving religion under a federal hate crime statute enacted in 2009 in response to the murders of Matthew Shepard because he was gay and James Byrd Jr. because he was black.

Attorneys for the Amish defendants have argued that the statute was meant for egregious offenses motivated by race, sexual orientation and religion, not for what their clients did.

“The impetus behind the hate-crime statute, the Matthew Shepard tragedy and James Bird – those are heinous, egregious, tragic crimes, and I think in responding to those crimes, (the statute) is a little overbroad, and I think it can have an effect that perhaps Congress didn’t intend,” Overmyer said. “This is a really good case that exemplifies where that line can be drawn of what is a hate crime and what is not a hate crime.”

The ruling will make it more difficult for federal prosecutors to obtain hate-crime convictions, because the court made it clear evidence must show the crime was based solely on religious hatred, said Ric Simmons, an Ohio State University law professor.

“It’s always hard to prove state of mind or motive of a defendant,” Simmons said. “Now it’s going to be even harder because you have to prove not only was this a reason why they did it, you have to prove this is essentially the only reason, or the motivating reason.”

At sentencing, Judge Dan Aaron Polster said it was clear to him and the jury that the attacks were motivated by religion and that “anyone who says this is just a hair- and beard-cutting case wasn’t paying any attention.”

“These victims were terrorized and traumatized,” he said. “(The attacks) were calculated to inflict the maximum emotional trauma and distress on the victims, and that’s what they did.”

Dems’ bill fights back against attacks on reproductive rights

Democrats in Congress are working to pass legislation that would protect reproductive freedom, which is under repeated attack in Wisconsin, Texas and other states four decades after the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to choice in Roe v. Wade.

In mid-November, U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Judy Chu, Maria Fudge and Lois Frankel introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 “to protect a woman’s right to determine whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy by limiting restrictions on the provision of abortion services.”

With 32 co-sponsors in the Senate and 67 co-sponsors in the House, WHPA was proposed just days before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in a legal dispute over a law that has forced a third of Texas’ abortion clinics to close. The measure requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. No more than 20 clinics were able to meet the new standard, which means that some women must travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion in Texas. And all of the facilities that remain open are in metropolitan areas, leaving none in the Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico.

The Texas law on admitting privileges was part of a package of abortion restrictions that the GOP-controlled Legislature passed over the summer after Gov. Rick Perry called a special session. The restrictions, which are among the toughest in the nation, gained notoriety when Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster against them in June.

Two other states that are enforcing laws on admitting privileges are Tennessee and Utah. Courts have temporarily halted similar laws in Wisconsin, as well as in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota.

Baldwin, announcing the introduction of WHPA, said, “In Wisconsin and in states across the country, politicians have been standing between women and their doctors, restricting the choices women can make regarding their own reproductive health.”

Planned Parenthood of America has reported that in recent years more than 160 restrictions on access to abortions have passed in 30 states, including more than 40 new restrictions this year aone.

“Around the country, women are subjected to onerous waiting periods and forced to listen to medically inaccurate claims about their choices,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Abortion clinics are targeted for unnecessary and burdensome requirements designed to shut them down for good. In some states, outright bans challenge the very foundation of the Roe decision and force the will of politicians into women’s private decisions.”

In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has signed nine measures intended to restrict women’s access to health care.

“It is clear that we need federal protection from these unwarranted intrusions into our personal health care decisions,” said Eve Galanter of Wisconsin Women’s Network, which endorsed WHPA in mid-November.

Other advocates of WHPA in Wisconsin include the American Association of University Women of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.

“Sen. Baldwin’s legislation would make it unlawful for politicians to interfere with women’s personal health care decisions,” said Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “This bill would ensure that a woman’s freedoms don’t depend on her ZIP code.”

Baldwin — who defeated Tommy Thompson in 2012 to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate — said, “I am proud to stand up to these attacks on women’s freedoms.
. . . Every American woman deserves the freedom to exercise her constitutional rights by making personal health decisions with a trusted doctor and without political interference.”

AP contributed to this report

Albuquerque voters reject late-term abortion ban

In a closely watched, first-of-its kind election, voters in New Mexico’s largest city have soundly defeated a ban on late-term abortions.

Voters on Nov. 19 rejected the measure 55 percent to 45 percent following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses. 

A coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Planned Parenthood, called the results a huge victory for Albuquerque women and families. 

Activists on both sides said it was the first municipal ballot measure on the matter.

— AP

Cleveland officials rescind letter harassing gay bar that’s been site of numerous hate attacks

Responding to heavy criticism, Cleveland officials are rescinding a letter sent to a gay bar complaining that its employees’ nine calls to law enforcement are over-burdening “the taxpayers of the City of Cleveland” and “our safety forces.”

But the repeated calls from Cocktail Lounge were made due to at least six reported attacks on LGBT patrons heading to and from the bar since last spring. The latest incidents involved a group of about 20 people allegedly beating a 28-year-old patron whose eardrum was ruptured and a group of boys allegedly throwing large rocks at patrons.

Still, the bar was sent a letter on Sept. 6 that read: “The estimated cost for the city safety forces to respond to your property is approximately $100.00 per call for service. l am confident that we share the same goal and that you will take the necessary steps to eliminate the repeated calls for police services to your property. Therefore, within 10 days of the date of this letter, you will be required to submit your action plan to the First District Neighborhood Police Commander (623-5105), outlining your strategy to eliminate the problems at this location.”

Safety director Martin Flask told The Plain Dealer that the letter wasn’t referring to the two recent attacks. He said police would work with the owners to address concerns.

Meanwhile, bar manager James Foster told WEWS-TV that, despite the warning letter, he won’t hesitate to call police if necessary.

Critics of the Cleveland police have said the perpetrators and not the victims should be blamed for the repeated 911 calls.

NYPD arrests suspect in anti-gay attack

A suspect was arrested on May 22 in an assault in Manhattan’s East Village that police say was one of several anti-gay attacks recently.

Gornell Roman was arrested on charges of assault and aggravated harassment, both as hate crimes.

Roman is accused of yelling an anti-gay remark and attacking a drinking companion. Roman and the victim, Dan Contarino, lived at a nearby homeless shelter.

It was one of 2 anti-gay attacks authorities announced on May 21 following the killing of a gay man over the weekend.

Police said two men were walking in lower Manhattan early May 21 when two other men yelled homophobic slurs in Spanish and attacked them. Two suspects were arrested on hate crime assault charges.

Mark Carson was killed on May 18 as he walked with a companion through Greenwich Village. Police say a man charged with murder as a hate crime shot Carson just blocks from the Stonewall Inn, where riots sparked the modern gay-rights movement in 1969.

Following the deadly shooting, officials said police would increase their presence there and in nearby neighborhoods through the end of June, Gay Pride Month.

Carson’s shooting came after reports of several other anti-gay attacks in recent weeks. Those include an assault on two men who were walking arm-in-arm near Madison Square Garden on May 5, police said.

Transgender woman sexually assaulted in D.C.

Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department Department is searching for a suspect who sexually assaulted and robbed a transgender woman on Sept. 23.

The Advocate reports that the assault occurred at about 4:45 a.m. Sunday. The man approached the woman, hit her and forced her at gunpoint to a building in the in the 5000 block of East Capitol Street Northeast, where he sexually assaulted her. He took the woman’s purse as he fled.

Authorities described the suspect as a dark-complexioned man, in his early 20s, about 5’7″, with brown eyes and short braids. He was wearing a black shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers.

The assault is the latest in a series of attacks on transgender women in the city in the past year.

Earlier this month, Washington unveiled an unprecedented transgender awareness campaign.

Rally protests three recent anti-gay attacks in Salt Lake City

As many as 200 people gathered Friday night in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park to protest three recent anti-gay assaults. Organized by the nondenominational church City of Hope Salt Lake, the event included a rally and ended with participants carrying glow sticks through the streets of Utah’s capital.

Speakers at the rally included the sister of a man who was injured early Thursday morning in the most recent attack.

Cameron Nelson was attacked by two or three people who yelled anti-gay slurs as they beat him outside a hair salon where he works. He suffered a broken nose and other injuries.

It is “intolerable to treat someone as less than precious and valuable,” Marnie Nelson Bales told the crowd at the rally. “I’m LDS. My family is LDS. And you know, it doesn’t matter. He’s my brother. We love him.”

Dane Hall (pictured) suffered a broken jaw and lost six teeth in an attack at Salt Lake City’s Club South two weeks ago. Speaking through his wired-shut jaw, Hall thanked listeners for their support.

“I don’t know how to express myself, but just know that I am very thankful,” Hall said. He said he expects his medical bills to surpass $40,000, but he has no insurance.

A second gay man also was attacked near Club South the same night, but police do not believe the two incidents are related.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank also spoke at the rally, sharing a personal story about his cousin, a gay man who was a victim of domestic violence but wouldn’t report it for fear of outing himself.

Burbank told the crowd it’s important to involve police when violence takes place. Police handed out cards at the event that detail how the public can submit confidential tips to detectives.

“We have people in our community who still cannot come forward because of the stigma that may be attached to them,” Burbank said. “Any crime represents a failure of our society, especially a crime like this.”

No one has been arrested in the attacks and they have not been classified as hate crimes.

A group of business owners from Utah’s gay community has set up a fund to provide reward money for information that leads to arrests in hate-motivated crimes against gays. Q Business Alliance leaders say the city’s LGBT business community wants to send a message that violence won’t be tolerated. Donations for the fund are being accepted from private citizens, businesses and organizations.

No freedom without security

Recent news about suicides and homophobic attacks has made clear that LGBT people are still living in a very hostile climate. That hostility is likely to accelerate as economic dislocation and changing demographics are used by extremists to fuel the search for scapegoats. Gay people have joined Muslims and Latinos as the most popular targets today.

So what we are doing to protect ourselves, individually and collectively?

First of all, we need to protect our kids.

Media pundits say the suicides of LGBT youth are occurring at a time when there are more support services, gay-related curricula and gay/straight alliances than ever before in the schools. They say the higher profile of gays overall and the growing numbers of kids coming out contributes to the homophobic reaction.

There’s an element of truth to this, but it’s also a convenient way to blame the victims and discredit gay activism. The solution is not to head back to the closet but to redouble our efforts to support LGBT kids.

Many schools and LGBT organizations sponsor mentoring programs. Contact them and volunteer to be a mentor to LGBT youth. Get involved with your school or school board on issues related to LGBT services or curriculum. Better yet, consider running for a school board seat to positively influence school policies. If you have a child or know of a child who is being harassed, demand that administrators protect that child, discipline the perpetrator/s, and enforce district policies on behavior and non-discrimination.

Contribute financially to the organizations that help our kids, like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

We also need to protect ourselves and our institutions.

I’m a big believer in the value of self-defense programs, and I think they should be a regular part of programming through LGBT centers. Self-defense classes provide practical tips about avoidance behaviors and teach basic skills that enable you to defend yourself or escape an attack.

The best self-defense classes also imbue participants with self-respect, self-confidence and solidarity with others, values that reduce fear and build community. They had a powerful impact on women during the heyday of feminist organizing in the 1970s and ‘80s and could do the same for LGBT communities today.

Threats against LGBT institutions are not new. Over the past twenty years, arson has destroyed several Metropolitan Community Churches, terrorist Eric Rudolph planted one of his nail bombs at a gay bar in Atlanta, and the zealot who complained about the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center a few years back had a web site linked to a memorial to Paul Hill, who murdered a doctor for performing abortions.

LGBT organizations need to think more seriously about security measures at the buildings in which our organizations are housed and at venues where LGBT events are held. Community leaders should plan now and consult with security experts to prevent anyone or anything from being harmed.

Jewish organizations and women’s health clinics, which have faced threats themselves, have instituted various security systems and policies at their facilities. They may be a helpful resource.

LGBT leaders also need to establish and maintain closer communication with local police. This is easier said than done. Relations between police and LGBT communities have often been problematic, especially in Milwaukee. But as taxpayers, we are entitled to equal protection. Better communication could help to solve individual bashing incidents and head off broader threats to organizations by anti-gay extremists.

It’s a truism that no one is really free unless they are secure, so the time to work on these issues is now.