The violent attack of Josh Noblitt (top photo) and his companion this summer in Piedmont Park may be the most high profile gay-related bias crime this year, but there have been 16 others in Atlanta.
That nugget provides a startling total to the number of bias-related crimes against LGBT people in Atlanta in the first eight months of 2010 – a total previously unpublicized until a Creative Loafing story Thursday. But the 17 LGBT-related bias crimes in the city is about on par with past years – slightly higher than the 20 on record for 2009 and the 24 a year before that.
According to records provided by the Atlanta Police Department, the attack in Piedmont Park is one of 17 incidents to have taken place so far this year that’s been categorized as bias-related specifically against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered, or LGBT, community. Because Georgia has the dubious distinction of being one of just five states without hate crime legislation on the books, when a victim of crime is targeted based on their race, color, creed, or sexual orientation or identification, the Atlanta Police Department can classify the act only as a “bias crime.” The phrase doesn’t carry quite the same gravitas as “hate crime,” nor is it accompanied by the same threat of additional penalty in the state’s court system. Classifying crimes as bias-related basically allows the APD to keep stats on the phenomenon and gives police the option of forwarding the case to the Justice Department for prosecution under federal hate crimes legislation, should it meet certain requirements.
Despite widespread media attention of the July 3 attack of Noblitt and Trent Williams as well as other incidents this summer that weren’t classified as bias crimes; an LGBT town hall meeting with Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, who is gay, police Chief George Turner and Mayor Kasim Reed; and the Atlanta Police Department’s effort to more fully integrate its LGBT liaison, Officer Patricia Powell (bottom photo), into its operations; the Loaf report is the first to publicize the total number of LGBT-related bias crimes this year. None of those public officials have mentioned the total in public meetings or settings.
Despite Wan’s characterization of crime in recent months, APD records don’t indicate that there’s necessarily been a “rash” of LGBT-related bias crimes. With 17 on record in the first eight months of the year, the occurrence of such crimes is slightly higher than it was in 2009, when there were 20 on record, but about on par with 2008, when 24 crimes were classified as such. Some recent crimes might have appeared to be bias-related at first — for instance, the Aug. 25 shooting death of Durand Robinson, co-owner of Decatur gay bar Traxx — but turn out to be of opportunity involving people who happen to be (or might have been perceived to be) gay.
The Loaf story also details the violent anti-gay harassment of four college students in their East Lake apartment this summer, an incident that hadn’t been previously reported by media outlets.
Earlier this summer, current GLBT liaison Powell was called upon to meet with a group of very-out-of-the-closet college students at their East Lake apartment. For months, Eric La Prince, Brian Alston, Michael Leonard and Diamond Poulin were harassed to the point of near violence, allegedly because of their sexuality. Their cars have been egged and stolen, their front door kicked in. They’ve been called “fags” more times than they can count by a group of neighbors, ranging in age from roughly 12 to late teens. And then there was the “neighborhood standoff,” as they call it: the night the gang of teens (and some of their parents) allegedly came looking for them with dogs and baseball bats in tow. “It was like the Salem Witch Trials!” says La Prince, sitting on the couch next to Leonard, who cradles the house puppy, Badgley Mischka. “Like they were going drag us out of our house!”
The bias-crime numbers came in a larger Loaf story about Noblitt’s attack and whether it will help mend the rift between Atlanta police and the city’s LGBT residents. Noblitt has since been asked by Reed to deliver the invocation as the mayor re-opened several recreation centers. Noblitt was also recently appointed one of nine members of the police department’s new LGBT advisory board.