Georgia police agencies stumble in tracking anti-LGBTQ hate crimes

A gay couple said they were spit on and called homophobic slurs in a drive-through line at a Chick-fil-A in Buckhead, but the incident was one of several across metro Atlanta that went unreported to the FBI’s hate crime statistics program.

The incident at the Chick-fil-A at Piedmont Road and Sydney Marcus Boulevard started when a man began screaming and honking his horn at Billy Canterbury and his partner in the drive-through line in January 2018, according to an Atlanta police incident report. 

“Then he wiggled his way out of the line, pulled up next to us and proceeded to start cussing and screaming and yelling homophobic remarks and trying to spit at us through the car,” Canterbury told Project Q Atlanta.

The man pulled ahead of the couple, who then told a Chick-fil-A manager what happened, according to Canterbury.

“Then the guy gets out again and starts spitting on the car and kicking the car and calling us faggots and cocksuckers,” he said.

Canterbury wrote down the man’s license plate number and called Atlanta police before the aggressor drove off. After police responded and interviewed the couple, they headed to Ansley Mall. But the same man pulled behind them on Piedmont Road and began tailgating them, according to Canterbury.

“I got pissed off and tired of being scared of this guy and slammed on my brakes right where Cowtippers used to be,” he said. “He barely missed us and sped off and thankfully we never saw him again.”

The offense was listed as simple assault and battery on an incident report. The victims declined to prosecute, according to police.

The incident was one of eight potential hate crimes that Atlanta police failed to report to the FBI, which released its 2018 Hate Crime Statistics report in December. Atlanta police reported two hate crimes in 2018 to the FBI, then added eight more after questions from Project Q. The hate crime reports were not being reported to the FBI due to a glitch in the local agency's reporting system, an Atlanta police spokesperson said.

But Atlanta’s police department wasn’t the only one in Georgia to fall short on reporting hate crimes.

Missing reports and unfiled charges

 

Georgia law enforcement agencies reported 43 potential hate crimes in 2018 to the FBI, including the eight missing ones that Atlanta police later found. Nine of the 43 — or about 20 percent — involved anti-gay bias. No hate crimes motivated by the victim’s gender identity were reported.

Six of the anti-gay hate crimes were in the City of Atlanta, and one each occurred in Columbus, Cobb and Gwinnett.

Columbus police were unable to find the incident report the agency filed with the FBI, according to Corp. Mark Scruggs, the department’s LGBTQ liaison.

“I have spoken directly with the individual that submits all of those stats to the state and she is not aware of any report matching those stats,” he said. “She also stated that it is possible that the FBI might have made a mistake with the placement of that report on their end.”

Cobb police reported one anti-gay hate crime to the FBI in 2018, but failed to report a second one after questions from Project Q. 

In one of those incidents, an employee at an office park in Kennesaw threatened to assault another employee and called her homophobic slurs, according to Cobb police.

“She stated that he said that if she wants to look like a man, he would beat her like a man,” according to an incident report.

The man allegedly pulled out two knives and told her he would “cut a person up.” The man was arrested for simple assault.

In the second anti-gay incident in Cobb, five teenagers allegedly tried to enter a man’s hotel room against his will at the Red Roof Inn on Corporate Plaza in Smyrna. One of the assailants allegedly told the man, “We ain’t with that gay shit,” according to police. The man was able to close the door without incident and the teenagers left. Police responded and no charges were filed.

A Cobb police spokesperson did not respond to questions about why the department failed to report the second incident.

In the anti-gay incident in Gwinnett, a man allegedly threatened to kill a lesbian couple. The couple adopted the man’s daughter after he was sent to prison, according to police. He found out about the adoption when he was released, and posted to Facebook in August 2018 that gay couples should not raise children.

“All y’all can die slow you two gay bitches,” he wrote.

The offense was listed on the incident report as a terroristic threat or act. Gwinnett police did not respond when asked if the man was ever charged. 

Hate crime reporting laws scarce

 

The percentage of Georgia law enforcement agencies that reported 2018 hate crimes to the FBI was also far below the national average. 

Some 12.6 percent of the over 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. reported hate crimes to the FBI in 2018, according to its Hate Crime Statistics report. But just 1.8 percent of Georgia’s nearly 500 agencies reported hate crimes to the FBI.

Sandy Springs passed an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law in July. It includes a requirement that Sandy Springs police track and report hate crimes to the GBI and the FBI.

Dunwoody passed an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy in June that also requires the city to develop guidelines for identifying, investigating, documenting and reporting hate crimes committed in the city. The policy also requires the city to report hate crimes to the FBI.

Georgia is one of four states in the U.S. without a hate crimes law. An LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill passed in the Georgia House in 2019 but stalled in the Senate. The measure from state Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula, is back for consideration in this year’s session. But the bill does not include any requirements that law enforcement agencies track and report hate crimes to the GBI or FBI.