When James Campbell was called a faggot, punched in the face and knocked unconscious on the sidewalk this past weekend downtown, at first he didn’t file a police report.
“We didn’t know who to call and where to report,” said Campbell. “It’s been stressful. Very stressful. Not just shutting the fuck up and letting it pass over, like, quadruples the stress.”
Hurdles to filing police reports about gay bashing—including hostile police officers who make victims feel uncomfortable and a system which can drop the ball on prosecuting crimes—were at the heart of a packed public discussion last night at the Q Center.
Police Chief Mike Reese, Mayor Sam Adams and Deputy District Attorney Rod Underhill were among the half dozen public officials who answered the many questions the 100-person threw at them in the wake of this most recent assault on Portland’s LGBT community.
“This is about holding the people accountable who get paid—and who don’t get paid— to stand behind us,” said Kendall Clawson, director of the Q Center. “This is bigger than people getting beaten up in the street. This is people who have broken the law in a serious way.”
According to police stats, the number of “bias crime assaults” is falling in Portland, from 26 reported in 2007 to 22 in 2008 and 15 in 2009. But that is just the number of reported assaults. Listening to the testimony of queer Portlanders last night, it’s clear many assaults go unreported.
- Chief Mike Reese, in blue, was front and center at the forum
Jeffrey Darling’s voice was gruff with emotion as he described the incident: he and five friends, some dressed in elaborate drag, were walking down the SW 11th Avenue when five to six dudes blocked their path, calling them “faggots” and “trannies.” Punches were thrown and two of the drag queens were knocked unconscious. “When you see someone you love getting hit, you just go for it. You fight back,” said Darling. “It just became a huge mess of just this hatred and defense and confusion.” Darling says police officers who help clean up from the scuffle and investigate the assault were very helpful and considerate.
- The audience packed Q Center for over two hours
But Airick H., the organizer of queer dance night Blowpony who also spoke last night, says he has had trouble getting officers and prosecutors to take gay bashing seriously in the past. This time last year, Airick was punched outside Blowpony by a man who called him a gay slur. According to Airick, the police originally told him the incident would be charged as a hate crime, but it was later reduced to harassment. He did not get a chance to testify at his attacker’s arraignment because, according to Airick, the District Attorney’s office stopped sending him subpoenas, mistakenly entering in its records that he had moved to Minnesota. “I find that disgusting. Saddening. I wanted to speak at his arraignment, but the subpoenas stopped coming,” said Airick.
These kinds of stories don’t help to motivate people in Portland’s queer community to report crimes against them to the police. Also, several audience members spoke up to ask if there could be some less intimidating or intrusive way to report a crime than having an officer come to their house and interview them.
District Attorney Underhill noted similarities between the crowd’s fear and his past work with domestic violence issues. “A woman gets abused, on average, seven times before she makes a report. There’s a sense that if they call the police, the right thing isn’t going to happen,” said Underhill, a strong, sincere speaker in a sharp suit. “I don’t want it to happen seven times to any of you before you report.”
- Commander Mike Crebs, left, Reese and Mayor Adams
Underhill later suggested pursuing the idea of making a hate crime reporting process that mirrors Oregon’s special laws surrounding reporting of sexual assaults. Under the “Jane Doe Law,” Oregonians can choose to informally report that they have been sexually assaulted without triggering all the legal follow-up like a grand jury or full investigation.
There are several existing legal tools that should help investigation and prosecution of hate crimes in Oregon. Bias-motivated assaults, for example, warrant a mandatory investigation by Portland police detectives, whereas many of the 6,000-7,000 annual assaults locally go uninvestigated.
Sean Riddell, head of the Oregon Department of Justice's Criminal Justice Division, said the state will spare no expense to investigate hate crimes. “I’ve got 23 gun-carrying, badge-carrying officers on staff who I can send out to John Day for a week, get em a car, get em a hotel and have them investigate a hate crime,” said Riddell.
Mayor Adams focused on pushing stronger community involvement in cutting assaults.
Speaking to community policing, Mayor Adams asked who in the crowd had been on a citizen crime-watch foot patrol. I didn’t see a single hand. Later, Adams asked how many people had been on the World Naked Bike Ride last year. At least four hands flew up.
“There were more people on the naked bike ride than were on a citizen foot patrol,” said Adams, to laughs and applause. “Maybe you want to organize the naked foot patrol?”
“Is there any way we can put something together about this for Pride?” asked one man in the crowd asked the police.
A man next to him in an orange shirt piped up, “We like horses!”
The Q Center is offering self-defense classes for LGBT folks over the next months and Airick, from Blowpony, told the audience that he is serious about organizing a Queer Patrol: queer people and allies trained in defense who could rove the downtown bar district on busy nights, watching for trouble.
To make an informal report of a crime in Oregon, call 503-378-6347.
Photos by Stefan Kamph.