Last night, I attended the LGBT Community Forum that was held at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church. This event was organized by the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, AIDS Rochester, and several other organizations to give the community a chance to learn the full details about the June 1 gay bashing and subsequent police misconduct that occurred in Rochester, as well as to give members of the community a chance to speak up and share their own reactions to the incident and others like it.
After city council member Bill Pritchard spoke, Alexandra Cobus gave a brief history of the June 1 incident based on the investigation so far. Without giving a level of detail that might compromise the investigation, Ms. Cobus walked the community throught he events of the bashing. Rather than attempt to repeat that account exactly, I will merely offer some of the details that stood out to me. There were eight people in total attacked that night, with two separate incidents. The eight victims, all friends, were leaving the Avenue Pub between two and three that morning, heading in the direction of Park Avenue. They were travelling in two groups, with the second group lagging behind the first by approximately five minutes. The perpetrators attacked both groups with a metal pipe in turn while expressing anti-gay slurs.
An unidentified witness called the police at the time of the first attack, and a number of officers (witness accounts place the number between twelve and fifteen) arrived shortly after the second assault. When some of the victims approached the officers on the scene, they were told to go home. They requested to file a police report, only to be denied. In the process, three of the people who were attacked were arrested.
According to Ms. Cobus, there are currently two separate police investigations going on. The first is a criminal investigation against those who attacked both groups. The second investigation is to address the matter of police misconduct in regards to the matter. Ms. Cobus also indicated that according to the chief of police, the misconduct investigation is considered a higher priority.
One of the other issues that Ms. Cobus addressed were the rumors surrounding FBI involvement in the investigation. She wished to make it clear that the FBI was only investigating the allegations of police misconduct. At this time, the FBI simply does not have the jurisdiction to investigate a hate crime based on sexual orientation. As an aside, this is why the current legislation that would add sexual orientation to the federal hate crimes law is so important. If this legislation passes, the FBI would have jurisdiction in future incidents of this nature.
Afterwards, members of the community were given their chance to speak and express their feelings. Most notably, those with similar experiences were encouraged to share them. I didn’t count them (or record their stories), but I’d estimate that seven or eight people spoke up to share similar experiences of being harassed, stalked, or assaulted, only to have poor police response. Needless to say, there was a great deal of anger and tension in the room. It’s no surprised that the organizers asked a member of the LGBT who is a psychologist to mediate this portion of the night’s agenda.
The night concluded with a half hour brainstorming session where everyone in attendance was invited to bring up their suggestions on how to prevent such future incidents — or at least improve how they’re handled. Ideas were wildly varied and included everything from improved training for police officers in handling these kinds of crimes to protests and demonstrations. There were a number of excellent suggestions, and I hope that we as a community find a way to implement many of them in the coming months.