Savannah gay beating divides LGBT activists

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imageThe June 12 beating of a gay man in Savannah has provoked a fissure among LGBT activists in the coastal city and prompted some to launch a new organization.

The fault line is centered on the reaction of local police to the attack, with some activists strongly criticizing the response of Savannah-Chatham Metro Police to the incident and others in the past while others say the police are acting appropriately.

The dispute is playing out on the pages of the Savannah Morning News, the city’s daily newspaper, as well as with the creation of Act Out Savannah. The new LGBT group announced its creation on Thursday in reaction to the attack nearly two weeks ago of Kieran Daly (photo). The 26-year-old gay man was hospitalized after two Marines allegedly attacked him while he spent time downtown with friends.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Kevin Clark – a longtime board member of Atlanta-based Georgia Equality who directs its Savannah chapter – harshly criticized Savannah police for filing only misdemeanor charges against the two Marines, Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23. In a statement issued to media outlets, Clark also criticized “an unfortunate history of gay assaults in the historic district” and accused city officials of “turning a blind eye to the violence.”

Clark signed the letter along with Jesse Morgan from First City Network, Laura Cahil from Armstrong Atlantic State University, and Charlene Aldron and Tracy DuBois from MEGA Families-Savannah Chapter. Officials with Savannah Pride were also included in the initial letter, which was emailed to media outlets on June 15. But later revisions dropped any mention of Savannah Pride.

On Thursday, Savannah Pride Executive Director Christina Focht and Robert Dunn, co-chair of Stand Out Youth Savannah, signed a letter published in the Savannah paper commending local police for its investigation into the June 12 incident.

Our City law enforcement have conducted their responsibility appropriately, timely, and with due diligence. It is not uncommon for charges of a lesser severity to be brought at the time of arrest. While a crime is under investigation, charges are typically revised to ensure they meet the severity of the offence. Moreover, the alleged assailants being members of the Armed Services, they are property of the US government. As such, it is required that civilian law enforcement must notify the members’ base command and military police to coordinate an exchange of custody.

The letter also commends Georgia Equality for its role in the case and says city officials have “advanced change in our city with regard to respect, acceptance, and diversity. They have definitely not turned a blind eye. There has been much positive change in 30 years; and yes, there is opportunity for more positive change to come.”

On June 16, the Anti-Defamation League commended local and federal authorities for investigating whether the case might fall under the jurisdiction of a new federal hate crimes law. The FBI has launched a preliminary investigation and the Marine Corps is looking into the incident.

Clark has joined with three other LGBT activists to launch Act Out Savannah. In a statement released Thursday, the group says it formed in response to the recent attack and others against LGBT residents in the city.

In response to the vile and vicious attacks on fellow members of the GLBT community of Savannah, and in response to the City and Police Department’s failure to maintain a safe and healthy environment for our community, the fiercest of Savannah’s activists have joined together to bring the fight for equal protection, equal rights and equal justice to the streets.

In collaboration with numerous organizations and individuals nationwide, passionately fearless Savannahians have united together to found ACT OUT SAVANNAH!!

Founders of the group include Cody Patterson, who helped organize a June 20 rally that drew about 150 people to Johnson Square to call attention to attack.

The apparent fissure among LGBT activists in Savannah comes as Daly faces increased scrutiny. The incident remains under investigation by Savannah police, though Daly has been reluctant to provide his medical records to investigators nor meet with them without an attorney, police say. Daly didn’t attend the June 20 rally, which took place a day after allegations that Daly used a racial slur during a road rage incident earlier this year.

Daly and a truck driver were charged in the January incident, but those were dismissed Feb. 23 when the men pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and received a $500 fine. Daly denied using a racial slur during the incident.

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