A stabbing involving two gay men and two shootings at or near the rainbow crosswalks in Midtown are prompting LGBTQ business owners in the area to work with Atlanta police and stay vigilant.
Despite the violent incidents in recent weeks, the business owners said the Atlanta Police Department and civic groups are responding to their concerns about public safety at the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue.
The first incident occurred around 3:30 a.m. on July 2 in the 900 block of Piedmont Avenue, next door to the gay-owned Helmet Hairworx and a stone’s throw from LGBTQ-run Campagnolo and X Midtown (formerly Ten Atlanta). Police found the victim, Shabaaz Sohani of Lilburn, with a gunshot wound to the thigh.
Sohani told police he was sitting inside his parked vehicle when the suspect, a male dressed in all black and a ski mask, approached his door and demanded his car keys and valuables. Sohani said he didn’t have any valuables and exited the vehicle.
“The victim advised that once he was outside of his vehicle, he threw his car keys and began to walk away from the suspect, at which time the suspect discharged a single gunshot from his firearm, striking [Sohani] just below the left knee,” according to police.
The suspect fled on foot and has not been apprehended. Sohani was treated at a local hospital, according to the AJC.
Three days later, security personnel at X Midtown called police after a stabbing near the bar, according to owner James Nelson. The bar is located on the southwest corner of 10th and Piedmont.
Terry Spence told police that he and the victim, Bryant Newkirt, are “part of the LGBTQIA community.” Spence said that a few days prior to the incident, Newkirt got mad when Spence spurned his sexual advances and that Newkirt “stated he would get revenge.”
The two Atlanta men then saw each other at the intersection around 11 p.m. on July 5, according to police. Spence told police he stabbed Newkirt when he put his hand in his pocket and Spence was worried he was grabbing a weapon.
Newkirt told police that Spence ran up and hugged him from behind, and after trying to get Spence off of him, Spence got mad and stabbed Newkirt in the back. Newkirt also told police the two knew each other from prison. Newkirt was taken to Atlanta Medical Center and received two sutures to his wound.
Police detained Spence and as he was being placed into a police car, Spence said he was homicidal and suicidal, banged his head on the back of the car and tried to cut his wrists with the handcuffs, according to an incident report. Spence then spat on an officer and began kicking the car door from the inside, police said.
Officers removed Spence from the car and tried to put him into an ambulance, but Spence began “kicking, spitting, attempting to bite and flailing his arms around.” He was strapped to a gurney and taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and then transported to Fulton County Jail. Spence remains in jail charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery with substantial physical harm and obstruction of law enforcement officers, according to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office.
A video of the aftermath of the incident was posted on Facebook the night it happened.
Nelson told Project Q Atlanta that the stabbing happened at a nearby apartment and not in the bar’s parking lot.
“They made their way down the street, and as they separated, the guy that got stabbed came down into our parking lot because he saw our security team and came into the parking lot to get help,” he said.
Road rage ends in shooting
On Aug. 10, a man was shot in the stomach after a traffic dispute at the intersection of 10th and Piedmont around 1 a.m.
Witnesses told police that Anthony Hinton of Roswell pulled his car behind a vehicle stopped in the road with its hazard lights flashing. The witnesses said that Hinton began honking and shouting at the driver, Joseph Paul Sterling of Smyrna, to move, then pulled around in front of him, got out of the car and waved a stun gun as he stood in front of Sterling’s car.
Sterling told police that Hinton tried to open the driver’s side door, then leaned through the car window and fired the stun gun at him, striking him in the chest. Sterling then shot Hinton in self-defense, according to police.
Hinton was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and was listed in stable condition, according to police. He was released from the hospital and booked into the Fulton County Jail on aggravated assault charges on Aug. 11 and released the following day on a $5,000 bond, according to the sheriff’s office. Sterling was not charged in the incident.
‘We’re in a much better position now’
Nelson said he was aware of all three incidents and has been working with the Midtown Neighborhood Association to address public safety in the area. MNA is working with the Atlanta City Council, Midtown Blue and Atlanta police as well, he added.
“We’re very aware of it and taking steps to make sure that’s it monitored and doesn’t get any worse than it did,” he said.
Nelson said his bar is getting the protection it needs from Atlanta police and that his security team has a close relationship with the department. He added that Atlanta police have increased patrols in the area since the incidents.
“We’re in a much better position now than over the last three or four weeks,” he said.
Helmet owner Randy Addison was not aware of the incidents, which all occurred after his business hours, but he said that he and his staff try to stay vigilant.
“We keep our door locked so people don’t come wandering in, but that’s because of COVID more than anything else going on,” he said. “We haven’t really been affected by the violence so much.”
“I’ve been there 17 years in that space and seen it come and go. Every now and then you just have stuff like that going on,” Addison added.
This summer, the intersection of 10th and Piedmont has also been the setting for peaceful rallies during marches supporting black transgender people.
On June 7, hundreds of people rallied and marched through Midtown to support black transgender people and call attention to the killing of a trans man by police in Florida. The march stopped traffic at the intersection as demonstrators kneeled for a moment of silence.
On June 28, the Beauty in Colors Rally – organized by the People’s Uprising and Atlanta City Council member Antonio Brown – ended at the intersection as participants took part in a rally and block party.