Opinion: It’s Time to Take Back Our Streets

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.

West Hollywood City Council candidate Steve Martin
Steve Martin

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.

Steve Martin
#30


newest oldest
Notify of
John
Guest
John

I believe, its time for the Gay community to stand up , West Hollywood is a gay community. We welcome everyone that respect us , respect the community , and respect our Pride.
We need to recognize that the Police department in Weho demonstrates a lack of respect toward our community. We also need to recognize the problem with drugs among the gay young generation. Both issues need to be deal head on!

carleton cronin
Guest
carleton cronin

If you live long enough, I’ve been told, you’ll get to see history repeat itself over and over. In essence that means that humans are very slow to learn or retain the lessons learned from previous experiences. Total reliance on the police is closing one’s eyes to reality. For the most part, police (sheriff, of course) are reactors to crime, seldom preventers – regardless of what they say. The best weapon the police have is their presence, whether it be static (just in one spot) or irregular roaming in cars, on foot or on bikes. That role would be one… Read more »

Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

Couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Steve. Smart and experienced leadership on this front is what we need. I had a Sad reality check – I proposed last week some of WeHoville’s readers join me in helping to organize a response – 1 person replied. There was a time when we wouldn’t have to beg for a community outcry over much less. And what with social media helping to expand our reach of info one would like to think the community would react more swifty and with overwhelming force. After all, we’re talking life and death here. Just amazed how little… Read more »

mike dunn
Guest

West Hollywood only extends about half way up Fairfax from Fountain. North of there is the city of Los Angeles in which DGA exists.

Jeanne Karaffa
Guest
Jeanne Karaffa

These crimes are not only happening in Boy’s Town. In April our mailman was attacked in broad daylight on Fairfax, and has undergone two brain surgeries. I can tell you that we do not get Sheriff’s patrols up here near Sunset. In addition, there very few traffic officers when the DGA is holding an event.

Woody McBreairty
Guest
Woody McBreairty

Time for Steve Martin’s to bring his strong leadership back to the City Council

Tom Smart
Guest
Tom Smart

Yes, thank you Steve for keeping this discussion alive. TIME TO WAKE UP AND ACT CITY COUNCIL!!!!

Virginia Gillick
Guest
Virginia Gillick

Thank you, Steve Martin. These topics cannot be discussed too often. And with it being right here the average Jane has the opportunity to share this topic via FB. And so she will.

Williams
Guest
Williams

#getbashedinweho. New city slogan.

Man of Reason
Guest
Man of Reason

Mr. Martin! The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Traffic Services handles the DUIs, not the local deputies. So they have no impact on the local station. What the local station should do is get those guys out of their cars and on the streets. For one of the most densely populated cities in America, we need feet on the street, not big guys in comfy squad cars!

Randy
Guest
Randy

Yes, DUI checkpoints might have saved lives. They are important. Netting six or seven drivers under the influence does not seem like a “waste of resources,” if even only one life was saved. I think cameras need to be installed ASAP. Kirk is my friend, and I’m extremely frustrated that it has been over a year since he was assaulted, with no action by the City Council in this regard. I remember a couple years ago that someone was brutally assaulted on Hollywood Blvd., and they were able to catch the assailants by looking at camera footage. What are we… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

where have you been steve martin this is being discussed ad nauseam at the public safety meetings by many of the community activists that are filled with action not words.