The Atlanta office of the Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday commended local and federal authorities for investigating whether the weekend beating of a gay man in Savannah might fall under a new federal hate crimes act.
The group, which fights anti-Semitism, says the case raises concerns about the lack of a hate crimes law in Georgia, which is one of five states without such a measure.
“Although the circumstances of this assault are still under investigation, we are very pleased that Savannah police and the FBI are looking at whether this attack should be prosecuted as a federal hate crime,” Bill Nigut (photo), the ADL’s Southeast Regional Director, says in a press release. “If this is a hate crime, prosecution under the new law will send a strong statement to the people of Savannah that violence against gays will not be tolerated.”
In October, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal law to include crimes motivated by a person’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It also dropped a restriction that said the victim must be engaged in a federally-protected activity for the law to apply.
On Tuesday, several LGBT activists in Savannah criticized city officials, business leaders and the military for “turning a blind eye to” an “unfortunate history of gay assaults in the historic district.”
The statements come in the wake of an incident early Saturday in which Kieran Daly, a 26-year-old gay man, was struck in the back of the head in an apparent confrontation with two Marines in downtown Savannah. Daly and his friends say the unprovoked attack took place after the Marines—Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23—learned he was gay. The two men say they were subjected to unwanted verbal advances.
Both men were arrested minutes after the incident, charged with misdemeanor battery and are now restricted to their military base near Savannah. As local police continue their investigation, the FBI said Tuesday that it has opened a preliminary inquiry to see if the case may fall under the new federal law. The Marines are also investigating the incident.
LGBT activists in Savannah and Atlanta have expressed outrage over the misdemeanor charges filed in the case.
A rally is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. in Johnson Square in Savannah.