JEFFREY DARLING and his friends—some of whom were dressed in elaborate drag—found their path blocked by a group of five guys as they left a downtown bar in the early morning hours of Sunday, May 30. The group began hurling gay slurs, and when one of the drag queens shouted back, they started throwing punches. By the time police officers intervened, Darling and one of his friends were on the sidewalk, unconscious.
Despite the obvious wrongdoing, Darling was not sure he wanted to file a police report. Dealing with the paperwork and investigators would be more trouble than just letting the incident blow over and, besides, he wasn't sure it would do any good. But he and his friends eventually decided to file a report. Their public acknowledgement of the bashing sparked a community forum last week, with over 100 Portlanders packing the Q Center on N Mississippi to hear Portland Police Chief Mike Reese, Mayor Sam Adams, and Deputy District Attorney Rod Underhill address what members of the LGBT community say is a common crime.
Statistics from the police bureau show reports of "bias crime assaults" like the one Darling endured have dropped in Portland from 26 reported in 2007 to 15 in 2009. But much of the public comment at the Q Center forum focused on why Portland's queer community thinks reporting gay bashings is a lost cause.
Underhill compared the situation of reporting Portland's gay bashings to reports of domestic abuse. "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."
That sense of futility is supported by failure of the officials to follow through on several recent high-profile gay bashings—including the case of Airick H., an openly gay Portlander who does not want to use his last name for fear of retaliation. Airick pressed charges in April 2009 against a man he says gay bashed him outside queer dance party Blow Pony. The case, the DA's office confirms, was derailed due to a clerical error.
According to Airick, a man named Blake McCune was hanging around outside Casey's bar in Old Town during Blow Pony in April 2009, shouting that the partygoers were "AIDS-infested faggots." While Airick called the police, he says McCune punched him in the face, calling him a "faggot bitch."
Airick filed a police report and the DA charged McCune with harassment, intimidation, and disorderly conduct. Airick persistently checked in on the case, calling the DA's office a half-dozen times over six months, to make sure he could be present and able to speak at McCune's arraignment. But when Airick called to check in on the case in February 2010, the DA's office told him it had been closed.
Thanks to a clerical error, the DA's office mistakenly recorded that Airick had moved to Minnesota. The alleged victim never received a subpoena for the arraignment, no witnesses showed up to testify about the incident, and all three charges against McCune were dropped.
"A whole year I went through this anxiety and this guy got away scot-free," says Airick. He brought his case to center stage at the public forum last week. "I find [the case] disgusting. Saddening. I wanted to speak at his arraignment, but the subpoenas stopped coming," Airick told the crowd.
As Portland enters its annual Pride Week this month, officials at the Q Center forum encouraged people who are gay bashed to report the crime, despite setbacks. The DA's office says it will re-review Airick's case.
"You have a right to not only feel safe in this city, but be safe," said Mayor Adams.
"This is bigger than people getting beaten up in the street," said Kendall Clawson, director of the Q Center. "This is people who have broken the law in a serious way."