Four vicious late night assaults on men perceived to be gay in the last year. Three of the assaults occurred in the last five months. I leave it to you to decide if we are facing a crisis.
Kirk Doffing was jumped behind Rage a year ago. He was severally beaten and may have permanent brain damage. This January Anthony Villegas, age 25, was left battered and bleeding on Santa Monica Boulevard near Gelson’s. Corey Stedman, age 25, who is not gay, was assaulted after leaving The Abbey at Robertson near Santa Monica Boulevard. Brandon Akridge, age 27, woke up at Cedars-Sinai. He was so severely beaten that he mercifully has no recollection of the attack. His only pre-attack memory was being at Micky’s.
Based upon what we know, it is not clear if we are dealing with a statistical aberration or with something more sinister.
There is uniformity in these attacks. The men were attacked late at night and subjected to extraordinary violence, beyond any force necessary to commit a simple robbery. It is likely that each of the attacks was carried out by multiple attackers. It is difficult not to believe that these crimes were gay bashings.
Until this month’s attack on Brandon Akridge, it appears that everyone has gone out of their way not to appear to be alarmist. But the recent assault, coming on the eve of Pride, makes it hard to deny that something is very much amiss.
Clearly our residents and the young men who patronize our local gay life are in jeopardy. Whether the attacks are random or if there are hatemongers stalking our city is almost beside the point. The time when we could have dismissed these outrages as tragic inconveniences has passed.
Just a couple of years back, during the Boystown cross walk “crisis,” the community was quick to come together and demand action from the City. As we read about the bloody attacks on each of these young men, the community has been hesitant to make a rush to judgment or jump to conclusions. Perhaps we were all just hoping these were just criminal quirks that would not be repeated. I suppose none of us wanted to appear alarmist.
But now we need to react. Sitting back and doing nothing is no longer an option.
What we need is a community meeting with the City Council, the Public Safety Commission and the Sheriff’s Department. There should be representatives of all of the local bars and the heads of their security companies. Representatives from the LA LGBT Center and other LGBTQ organizations should be present. We don’t need finger pointing, but we do need a frank conversation with no options off the table. The community needs to be mobilized and empowered to take back Santa Monica Boulevard.
There are a number of ideas that might discourage these sorts of attacks. The most obvious would be a greater law enforcement presence. But getting the Sheriff to modify their usual patrolling routines is like trying to steer a gigantic container ship. I have voiced my frustration about DUI check points staffed by a dozen Sheriff’s deputies in the heart of Boystown. After five or six hours they only net six or seven drivers who were over the legal blood alcohol level of .08. That seems like a huge waste of resources.
I am sure we will hear from our new captain at the next City Council meeting, who will give the usual reassurances all captains give whenever we have faced similar criminal outrages. A couple of cosmetic changes will be temporarily enacted to sooth the concerns of the community.
But the usual public relations tactics will not work unless folks believe the rhetoric will be backed up with substance. Faith in the Sheriff’s Department has slipped in recent years. Maybe it was the realization that having a lesbian captain did not suddenly resolve all of the issues the gay community has with the department. Maybe it was the shooting by deputies of the two young hostages on Palm Avenue. There has been frustration with the incompetence demonstrated in that incident, which resulted in the death of one young man and the wounding of another, which was never rationally explained. Beyond platitudes about it being a “tragic accident,” there has never been an accounting, never any news of any consequences to the uniformed perpetrators. Perhaps these gay bashings will give the Sheriff Department an opportunity to re-build some credibility in the community. Gay lives do matter.
The City Council has not been keen on security cameras. Although they are common in London, a burg that may rival West Hollywood in sophistication, the council nixed the idea when it was recommended for Plummer Park. Maybe it is time to revisit the issue.
For years Public Safety Commissioner Ruth Williams has advocated better lighting throughout West Hollywood. That seems like a common sense idea whose time has come.
We can ask the bar owners to increase security or perhaps deploy the security that they have to patrol the side streets and alleys at closing. Obviously a greater law enforcement presence would be welcome even if it means an increase in the Sheriff’s budget. No sense in touting West Hollywood as a tourist destination if we are not willing to allocate resources to keep our guests safe.
But perhaps the most effective antidote to these crimes is to empower the community. Before the corporatization of our community institutions, the LA LGBT Center and Stonewall Democratic Club used to be nimble enough to respond to these sorts of crisis. Today there is sort of an institutional power vacuum. We need to provide opportunities for the community to be a part of the solution.
We all have an interest in ending gay bashing. We are more powerful when we act as a community and we feel invested in being part of the solution. We need to remember why we live here and why we think West Hollywood is special.
Safe streets cannot always be guaranteed. But we have a right to feel safe walking down our main thoroughfare. We owe this to ourselves; we owe it to those young men.