Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D……
I was deeply moved and angered by the violence against two gay men in Key West in the early hours of Wednesday, February 23, 2017. Biking home after dinner, an unknown man on a moped verbally threatened Key West’s Kevin Seymour and Kevin Paul Taylor and then physically assaulted Mr. Seymour by using his motor scooter as a lethal weapon. The incident report taken at the scene by KWPD officer, Brett T. Dehanas, at 12:58 am states that the offense perpetrated against Kevin Douglas Seymour was, “Battery Aggravated.” The man, now known as Brandon Ray Davis, ran his “Eclipse Brand,” black motor scooter into the tire of Mr. Seymour’s bicycle, causing his bike to fall over along with Mr. Seymour, who indicated to KWPD Officer Dehanas that he had not gotten hurt by the fall.
But before that happened, according to Mr. Seymour’s incident report testimony, “the suspect [had begun] to make inappropriate statements regarding his [Seymour’s] sexual orientation: “You just left 801.” “Do you need to suck my dick?” “You guys are a couple of fags.” Shortly after that “the suspect”— Brandon Ray Davis —ran his moped into the tire of Mr. Seymour’s bicycle. When Seymour stated that he was going to call 911, “the suspect said, “If you do that I’ll cut you up.” A witness at the scene confirmed in a sworn statement many of the facts as stated by Mr. Seymour.
News media across the United States[i] reported the hate violence in Key West suffered by Messrs Seymour and Taylor. The national LGBT news site (LGBT Nation) and The Advocate, both with substantial readerships, featured Key West’s “hate incident” that cannot officially be called a “hate crime,” until designated as such by a prosecutor and litigated as such. Nevertheless, Key West cannot put the “hate incident” Genie back in the bottle now that numerous US news media outlets have reported about Key West’s hate crime. As I will suggest in my policy statement at the end of this article, Key West and Monroe County governments must collaborate with civil society groups at the state, county, and city levels to produce and then issue a joint statement about the city and county’s commitment to diversity and to the safety of all the diverse people who are part of Key West’s “One Human Family.” And our city must announce publicly its policy of, “No Impunity for those who perpetrate ‘Hate Incidents’.”
No Impunity so far. The white male tourist from Richlands, North Carolina, Brandon Ray Davis, who called two gay KeyWesters “fags,” and then threatened physical violence against one of them, and subsequently used physical violence against one of them (confirmed in police incident report), has been located by Key West police working together with law enforcement partners in North Carolina. And Key West spokesperson, Alyson Crean, reports that KWPD “Detectives [have] obtained the extraditable warrant for a felony charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon….The charge is enhanced due to the fact that Davis attacked the Key West men based upon their sexual orientation. Probable cause exists to believe there was evidence of prejudice in Davis’s attack of Seymour.” See Ms. Crean’s full press release here.
Fingers crossed that the legal foundation is set for Brandon Ray Davis to be charged with a “hate crime,” defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” According to the FBI, “The victim of a hate crime may be an individual, a business, an institution, or society as a whole.”[ii] The Bureau adds that “Hate itself is not a crime—the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”[iii] However, and I am adding this, acting on one’s hatred is actionable–‘Your right to hit another person stops with that person’s nose.’
What happened in Key West Is Not Exceptional
The homophobic “hate incident” that occurred recently in Key West is unfortunately a painful national reality: It cannot be written off as unique: “Every hour, a crime motivated by the perpetrator’s bias against the victim occurs in the United States. These hate crimes terrorize whole communities by making members of certain classes–whether racial minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, religious minorities or people who are perceived to be members of these groups–afraid to live in certain places and be free to move about in their community and across the country.” The Human Rights Campaign,[iv] pointing to US Federal Hate Crime legislation, “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Public Law No. 111-84) that exists for those who perpetrate “hate crimes.”
Equality Florida reports that, “according to the Florida Attorney General “Race-hatred is still the most common motivation for a hate crime, followed by “sexual orientation- hatred”—the latter, accounting for 22% of Florida’s hate crimes, followed religious bias “hate incidents.” Equality Florida goes on to point out that “when taking into account the size of the [above three] targeted communities, LGBT Floridians are at the highest risk of being targeted with a hate crime.”[v] According to the FBI, in 2015, “There were 5,818…bias incidents [in the United States] involving 7,121 victims. Of these victims, 59.2 percent were targeted because of a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 19.7 percent because of a religious bias; [18.7] percent because of a sexual orientation [or] gender identity bias; 1.2 percent because of a disability bias; and 0.4 percent because of a gender [for being a woman for a man] bias.” Two recent research projects—one by the media organization, ThinkProgress, and the other by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have found an up-swing in “hate incidents” since the November, 2016 election of Donald J. Trump.
ThinkProgress, using media accounts of reported “hate incidents” that occurred between November 9 and 18, 2016, found 261 hate crime “incidents” in the United States. In forty-two percent of these–109 of the “hate incidents”—the perpetrator made specific references to Trump, his election, or his policies.” As when in Key West, Messers Seymor and Taylor reported that the perpetrator of the “hate incident” against them had said, “you voted for Hillary…,Well you live in Trump country now.” Nationally, the number of “hate incidents,” where a perpetrator links his or her hate actions to Donald Trump or his government, is even larger than ThinkProgress, has discovered. A similar ten-day study of “hate incidents” in the United States between November 9 through 18, 2016, carried out by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), came up with 867 post-Trump election “hate incidents.” The SPLC data are derived from two sources — submissions to the Center’s website page, #ReportHate, and from media accounts, the latter were the primary data source for ThinkProgress. The Southern Poverty Law Center limited its data to what it called, “real-world events”—its data do not include online harassment– and SPLC excluded those “hate incidents” that authorities had determined to be “hoaxes.”[vi] Both post-trump election samples—each covering short time-spans (ten days) and one, ThinkProgress, having a smaller victim sample (261) than the other (SPLC with 867 victims)—came up an important finding.[vii] : The prevalence of a perpetrator’s citing the election of Donald Trump or the policies of his government as somehow justifying his or her violence against a particular group or person.
Who Was Targeted? This question is answered using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s data. In the SPLC data for the US as a whole, of the 867 “hate incidents,” Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Black, and Anti-Jewish hatred headed the list in that order; anti-LGBT, Anti-Muslim, and Anti-Women incidents followed in that order. Immigrants, the group most subjected to a ‘hate incident,’ constituted 32% of all such incidents during the ten-day period studied by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In a recent example of one such immigrant-related ‘hate incident,’ which was not included in the SPLC study because it occurred after the SPLC’s research period, two engineers from India –working and studying in the US legally–were shot while relaxing after work in a small town Kansas bar. The perpetrator, Adam Purinton, assuming that the two Indian men “were Iranians,” yelled, “Get out of my country.” Training his rifle on Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla Mr. Purington began shooting: Srinivas Kuchibhotla later died; Alok Madasani was hospitalized with serious injuries. Ian Grillot, a 24-year-old American who tried to defend the two men against the shooter, was also injured in the violent attack. Mr. Purington has been charged with murder and attempted murder following the ‘hate incident.’[viii]
According to FBI data on “Hate Crimes”– its label, not mine– in 2015, 5,818 such crimes were reported to them by local US law enforcement agencies. But since the FBI does not use the label “immigrant” there is no direct comparability between the SPLC research findings and the FBI’s statistics,
Blacks were 22% of those who suffered a ‘hate incident’ in the United States, according to the SPLC study. One such case, not a part of the SPLC study, involved the violent murder of an African American man on June 26, 2011, when James Anderson, a Black homeless man, was brutally beaten, robbed, and then intentionally run over by a Ford F250 truck. Left in a parking lot to die, the six young men and two women who killed James Anderson, “beat [him] repeatedly, yelling racial epithets including ‘white power.’ After the group had bludgeoned their ‘prey,’ Deryl Paul Dedmon, one twenty-something member of the eight person group, drove his Ford F-250 truck over James Anderson, boasting, ‘I ran that n***** over.’” [ix] James Anderson’s assault in a Jackson, Mississippi hotel’s parking lot, where he had been sleeping, was caught on a hotel surveillance camera.
The group’s two, twenty-one year old, women were its ring leaders. They and all other group members lived in a predominately white county sixteen miles from Jackson, Mississippi where the hate crime was perpetrated. Shelbie Brooke Richards and Sarah Adelia Graves admitted to having carried out “a scheme to target African Americans…for violent assaults with dangerous weapons,” [x] including “beer bottles, sling shots and a motor vehicle to cause and attempt to cause bodily injury to African-Americans.[xi] The women stated that they “specifically target[ed] African-Americans they believed to be homeless or under the influence of alcohol because…such individuals would be less likely to report an assault….”[xii] The two women “pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges in connection with a series of racially-motivated assaults on African Americans, which culminated in the death of James Anderson. Deryl Paul Dedmon, who had driven his truck over Mr. Anderson, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. The women, who are now serving prison time for their hate crime, “admit they encouraged their co-conspirators to go with them to assault ‘n******’ on the night that Anderson was killed.”
According to 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation data, among the 5,818 victims of “hate crimes” registered in 2015, the largest percentage, fifty-seven percent (3,310), had been targeted because of their “race.” In the SPLC study, “Blacks” were second to “immigrants” for having been targeted. (One wishes that the SPLC had used the same data compilation categories as the FBI!)
Jewish hatred represented 12% of the post-Trump election hate crimes recorded in 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Enriching the SPLC findings, the FBI figures for the US in 2015, show that “hate crimes motivated by religious bias” accounted for 21% (1244) of all US hate incidents in that year. As for the religions most commonly targeted, the FBI’s statistics[xiii] show that anti-Jewish “hate crimes” accounted in 2015 for over half (53%) of the religious hate incidents; anti-Muslim violence ranked second. The violence against Jews, involved vandalism, bomb threats, and damage or destruction of Jewish owned property. For example, In 2015, “Vandals broke… and overturned more than 500 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia….” Hundreds of headstones, some of them more than 100 years old, were cut in half.[xiv] In addition, over 100 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) were “targeted by bomb threats, from Davie, Florida, and Long Island, New York, to Owings Mills, Maryland and Las Vegas, Nevada. [xv]
LGBTQ–Lesbians, Gays, Bi- and Poly-Sexuals, Transsexuals, gender non-conforming people, and those defining themselves as “Queer,” together were subjected in 2015 to 11% of all US “hate incidents,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ten-day post-Trump election study. Nationally, in 2015, according to FBI “hate crime” statistics for those targeted for their diverse sexualities, and/or for being transsexuals, or gender non-confirming, represented 20% of those targeted by a “hate crime.” Gay men were most likely, according to the FBI’s 2015 statistics on “hate crimes” to be victims of such a crime, followed by “hate crimes” against lesbians. In one of the latter cases, on September 28, 2016, over four years after a horrific “hate” attack against a teenage lesbian couple in South Texas, a jury “found 30-year-old David Malcom Stickland guilty of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault in connection with the crime.” The attack, “which many suspected to be an anti-gay hate crime,” was not handled as such by the court even though Strickland had sexually assaulted both women “before shooting them in the head execution style, at a park in Portland, Texas, [on] June 2012.” Bird-watchers discovered the young women stacked on top of each other the next morning. One of the women, [Mollie] Olgin, 19, “died from her injuries, but [Kristene] Chapa, then 18, somehow survived and has undergone a painstaking recovery that allowed her to begin college [in 2015].” Strickland was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[xvi]
“Hate Crimes” against transgender people in the US saw a three-fold increase in violence and threats between 2013 and 2014.[xvii] According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization (11/18/2016), “at least 21 transgender Americans have been killed so far in 2016, [with such killings] coming at a time of heightened uncertainty for the LGBTQ community.”[xviii] FBI statistics on violence against transsexuals and gender non-conforming people, for 2013 and 2015, show a 260% increase in lethal “hate crimes against this segment of ‘despised sexualities.’
Muslims—Islamophobia, in research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, accounted for 6% of the hate incidents during the 2017 ten-day study. Preliminary data from research by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicates that, “2017 is on track to be the second-worst year on record when it comes to mosque attacks.”[xix] On February 28, 2017 news spread that, as one headline read, “Four Mosques Have Burned In Seven Weeks: On January 7, the Islamic Center of Lake Travis, in Austin, Texas…caught on fire. A week later, on January 14, the Islamic Center of Eastside, in Bellevue, Washington, burned. Two weeks after that, on January 27, several hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, a fire destroyed the Islamic Center of Victoria, in Texas. Then, this past Friday, February 24, a small blaze broke out at the front entrance of the Daarus Salaam Mosque, near Tampa, Florida. Authorities have ruled that three of the four fires were caused by arson. An official at the Travis County Fire Marshal told BuzzFeed News that the investigation into the cause of the fire at the Islamic Center of Lake Travis remains open.On Sunday [February, 26] somebody threw a rock through a window of the Masjid Abu Bakr mosque in Denver. In Redmond, Washington, vandals destroyed the Muslim Association of Puget Sound mosque’s entrance sign…. Two days after the Inauguration, a woman shattered the windows of the Davis Islamic Center, in California, and left strips of raw bacon on a door handle.”[xx]
Women. Five percent of “hate incidents” discovered in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2017 study were against women. Examples summarized for the United States, not a part of the SPLC study, include two cases of gang rape: Case 1: A Steubenville High School rape occurred in Steubenville, Ohio[xxi] on the night of August 11, 2012, when a high-school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her peers, several of whom documented the acts on social media. The victim was transported, undressed, photographed, and sexually assaulted. She was also penetrated vaginally by other students’ fingers (digital penetration), an act defined as rape under Ohio law. Case 2: The alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by at least 18 boys in a tiny Texas town [xxii]; all defendants arrested were African-American and the victim is Hispanic. The rape, that allegedly occurred in November, 2011, with suspects ranging in age from 14 to 26, included perpetrators who were stars on their high school’s basketball team; one of them the son of a school board member. Both hate crimes against young women—that is, under-age girls–were compounded by their parents’ and friends actively working to hide information about the rapes from authorities.
The remaining category of “hate incidents” includes combinations of different vulnerable categories, equaling twelve percent of the “Hate Crimes” found in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s research.
Policy Suggestions for Monroe County and Key West
- Monroe County and Key West Commissioners must draft a proclamation, to be issued by these Lower Keys County and City governments, stating their joint position regarding ‘hate incidents and those who perpetrate them: “Monroe County and Key West governments condemn all “hate incidents.” Such crimes will be investigated and where probable cause exists, prosecuted.”
- Post a notice in the bathrooms of every Monroe County bar, restaurant, or club—much like the signs in some states warning women that ‘pregnancy and liquor do not mix’—that “Monroe County and Key West governments take hate crimes very seriously,” followed a short definition of a hate crime;
- Equality Florida addresses “the epidemic of hate crimes” in three ways that might be entertained by Monroe County’s wealth of civil society organizations that focus on the human rights of groups vulnerable to “hate incidents”:
- Rally community and faith leaders, as well as our members, to stand up to hate crimes every time they occur. Delivering a loud and public community-based response that hate crimes are completely unacceptable is a critical part of our effort in responding to such a tragedy.
- Ensure local law enforcement and prosecutors treat hate crimes victims with dignity while investigating and prosecuting their attackers.
- Work with LGBT and mainstream media to educate the public on the existence and impact of hate crimes and the disproportionate way the LGBT community is targeted.
Breaking News: Dear readers of my article on policing the homeless in Key West (and the threat matrix). Please read Police Chief Donie Lee’s memorandum [click here] regarding the actions taken by the KWPD in the case of the February 4, 2017 arrest of Kristopher Knight at Publix. I thank Chief Lee for the feedback and while I do not agree with all of the outcomes, I am content that something was done. I invite Chief Lee to read all of your comments in response to my article. These can be found below the post for my article on the Blue Paper’s Face book page as well as in last week’s Blue Paper: You have all weighed-in with excellent ideas and suggestions. I hope to hear your comments about Chief Lee’s actions in this case of homeless policing. Thank you, Martha Huggins
[i] Selection of some media attention to Key West’s “hate incident”: LGBT Nation: http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2017/02/gay-couple-attacked-man-moped-live-trump-country-now/; Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article134965699.html;
Unicorn Booty: https://unicornbooty.com/gay-couple-attacked-key-west/;
Tacoma News Tribune: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/nation-world/national/article134979604.html; Florida City News Line: http://florida.citynewsline.com/news/police-drunken-man-hurls-slurs-at-gay-couple-in-florida;
The Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/national/article134979604.html;
[vi] SPLC Report: https://www.splcenter.org/20161129/ten-days-after-harassment-and-intimidation-aftermath-election?utm_source=AOL&utm_medium=readMore&utm_campaign=partner
[vii] Most crime data is incomplete, with data on “hate incidents” against LGBTQ people perhaps the most incomplete of all. People in general fail to report crimes; gays, lesbians, and gander non-conforming people, and transsexuals are sometimes very reluctant to report a hate crimes against them: They may not be ‘out’ and fear reporting because they may be ‘outed’ by doing so. They, gender non-conforming people, and transsexuals, may fear that they will find police to be unsupportive of their reporting violence against them. What ever the reason, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 2/3 of all hate crimes are not reported to local police or Sheriffs.[vii]
[viii] http://www.itv.com/news/2017-02-25/shock-in-india-after-fatal-shooting-at-kansas-bar/; http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/