Omaha, NE – Protesters picketing a military funeral in Omaha were assaulted by a man squirting pepper spray out his pickup truck window as he drove by them on August 28. The assailant, George Vogel, 62, was arrested and charged with 16 counts of misdemeanor assault, and one felony count because the pepper spray hit a police officer. A reporter was also affected by the spray. The motorist was also charged with child neglect since his own child was in the truck at the time of the assault, according to CNN. Police confirmed that Vogel allegedly extended his arm from the cab of the Ford 150 pickup truck, and discharged a “large can” of pepper spray at the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. The funeral was being held at First United Methodist Church for the late Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Bock, 26, who died in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on August 13. The WBC protest at Bock’s funeral is part of Phelps’s strategy to publicize his campaign against gays and lesbians by targeting fallen U.S. servicemembers, since the United States has become a “fag-enabling” nation that is under God’s wrathful judgment. Members of the church at the Omaha protest carried signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Blew Up the Troops” and “AIDS Cures Fags.” The pepper spray assault occurred while nearly 600 members of the Patriot Guard Riders ringed the church to prevent the protest and counter-protest from disturbing the funeral services. No members of the Riders were affected by the spray. A major case involving a challenge to free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment has grown from a 2006 protest carried out against the funeral of a soldier from Maryland, in which the father of the deceased soldier sued Phelps and the church for 5 million dollars for harassing the family during the funeral. Albert Snyder, father of the fallen soldier from Maryland, accuses Phelps and his church of emotional distress and anguish. A lower court imposed a fine of up to 8 million dollars against Westboro Baptist, which was later reduced to a 5 million dollar award to Mr. Snyder. A court of appeals overturned the verdict, citing the protections afforded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in October of this year. Supporters of the Snyders have lined up against defenders of freedom of speech as the case goes to the high court. Phelps continues his schedule of protests with impunity. While the content of Phelps’s protests is so disturbing that high emotions can be readily understood, the larger issue of freedom of speech and expression takes center stage for the Unfinished Lives Project. We are under no illusions about the nature of Phelps’s work. He is the most notorious homophobe of this age, and if a link could be successfully established between his hate speech and violence against LGBTQ people, as we believe does exist, he and his church members deserve the punishment of the law. But freedom of speech is a defining right guaranteed all Americans under the provisions of the Constitution. LGBTQ people are vouchsafed the right of protest and speech under the same provisions of the law, and to surrender to emotion, no matter how justified it seems in the short term would be to gag and throttle the struggle for human rights in this nation. So, regretfully, the Unfinished Lives Project must support freedom of speech, even for one of the most noxious of our enemies. We must believe that the rightness of full equality will win out in the end, no matter how spiteful the opposition becomes. And, in the spirit of appreciation for the Snyders and all other families and friends of fallen U.S. servicemembers, we offer out sympathy and condolences.
Dallas, Texas – The Dallas Voice reports that the mother of murdered gay man, Richard Hernandez, will never see justice done for her son. Richard’s mother, Mary Garcia Hernandez, died this week, before the alleged hate murderer of her son was brought to trial. John Wright of the Voice posted the full letter of Rudy Araiza, close friend to the Hernandez family, informing the public of Mrs, Hernandez’s death on August 23. Hernandez, a 38-year-old gay man who worked as an Associate at Walmart, was gruesomely dismembered and eviscerated by his attacker in what has been described as a “Silence-of-the-Lambs” style slaying in September 2008, as reported by Unfinished Lives. Hernandez’s body has never been found, but his internal organs were discovered in his own bathtub when the apartment superintendent admitted police in an attempt to find him. Seth Lawton Winder, 29, was arrested and charged with theft and capital murder by the Dallas Police Department shortly after the horrific murder. In a widely publicized debate in the press and the blogosphere, Winder was said by family and friends to be unfit mentally to stand trial because of a host of mental problems. Others sought to blame Hernandez for his own murder, suggesting that Winder was tricking for money or drugs, and killed his john. No supporting evidence has been brought forward to substantiate what amounts to a permutation of the rather shabby “gay panic” defense. Friends and supporters of Hernandez deny an allegation that he was sexually involved with Winder, whom Hernandez had tried to help, according to neighbors and co-workers. Winder was adjudged fit to stand trial for the murder, but then a book, “Slipping Into Madness: The Seth Winder Story,” was published by Winder’s father’s girlfriend that would potentially prejudice the public prior to Winder’s day in court. The delays and stalling have seemed never ending for nearly two years. Rudy Araiza wrote the Voice, in part: “Well I’m witting this letter to just reach out to you and inform you that it’s a terrible thing when your son’s passing is still at a point where no justice has been made for going on two years. And in your own life (Richard’s mom) you are struggling with pain, sadness, emptiness and health problems that don’t make it any easier to live with, until one day you die. Only to never really understand or find the justice you wanted for your son, yourself, friends or family, and having so much on your plate. Mary Garcia Hernandez passed away Monday, Aug. 23, 2010 from health issues she was dealing with.” The Unfinished Lives Project Team thanks the Voice and Reporter John Wright for continuing coverage of this important story, and sends our sympathy to the Hernandez family in their mother’s death. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Justice too long deferred is justice denied.”
San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Police Department has arrested a 15-year-old boy in an alleged gay bashing on the Muni, August 14. Zachary Davenport, a 26-year-old gay man, was accosted at the J Church Street Station by a mob of 18 to 20 young men, shouting anti-gay epithets at him. Davenport was jostled, hit in the back of the head, and punched repeatedly in the face. He dropped his cell phone, which was taken by his main assailant. The suspect was arrested by the San Francisco Police Department Hate Crimes Unit on Friday, August 20, for suspicion of battery, possession of stolen property, and hate crime, according to Bay City News. Muni trains are equipped with surveillance cameras, and the attack on Davenport was captured on video. Police say that the suspect was clearly seen in the recording of the assault. He was recognized in still shots captured from the surveillance video by officers from the Juvenile Justice Center because of “prior contacts” with the youth, according to SFPD spokesperson, Officer Albie Esparza. Davenport also saw the video of the attack, and identified his assailant. Since the suspect is a juvenile, his identity is not being released to the public. The San Francisco Examiner reports that the other youths involved in the incident were supporting the main attacker and cheering him on. They are not being sought at this time.
San Francisco, CA – Police are investigating a gay bashing on the San Francisco metro rail line, called the “Muni.” Zachary Davenport, a 26-year-old gay person, was accosted with anti-gay slurs, punched, jostled and beaten in an incident that could have turned much uglier on Saturday, August 14. Davenport was riding the J Church line to his home in the Castro neighborhood, the most famous gayborhood in America. As the train stopped at the Church and Market Street Station, a group of several 18- to 20-year-old men boarded, flooding the train car with noise and disturbance. Davenport said he decided it would be better if he got off the Muni at that point, and tried to move to the door, but his way was blocked. As reported to ebar.com, the incident turned dangerous for Davenport: His first assailant said, “Watch it, faggot.” Davenport said he turned and said, “Excuse me?” He said another man then approached and said, “What? What faggot? What?” The first man said, “Move, faggot.” The second man and several others came after Davenport, he said, and he was hit hard in the face. Davenport tried to hit him back, but another man hit him in the back of the head. He said he was also hit in the nose and the cheek. As it was happening, many of the attackers were saying things like “Get that little faggot,” he said.” At that point, Davenport said he knew if he fell on the floor of the train, he was a dead man. He turned, pushed past his assailants, and ran shouting for help from the Muni. A woman standing at a nearby Blockbuster Video Store called 911. It took several minutes for the police to respond to the emergency call. Davenport was rushed to a neighborhood hospital. He received a head injury and a black eye. After treatment, he was released. Davenport reported to the police that the group numbered between 18 and 20 individuals, dressed in black hoodies. They were from a variety of ethnicities: Hispanic, South Asian, Chinese, Japanese, and African American. Both the Muni security police and the San Francisco police are still investigating the attack. No one is yet in custody for the assault. Anecdotal evidence from around the country seems to indicate that gangs of young men are beginning to invade LGBTQ neighborhood strongholds, searching for gays and lesbians to bash. When the most prominent gay address in the nation is no longer safe for gay folk, the LGBTQ community must become more active in demanding the protection of the law.
Shinnecock Indian Reservation, outside Riverside, Long Island – A 20-year-old Southampton man is accused of killing his girlfriend’s toddler on August 1, 2010. Pedro Jones, who was babysitting the 17-month-old tot, allegedly grabbed him by the neck and punched him repeatedly with his closed fist “to toughen him up,” the batterer said, in order to make the child “act like a boy and not a girl.” Roy Antonio Jones III, the victim (no relation to his assailant though they share the same surname), went into cardiac arrest and died as a result of his injuries late on Sunday evening. His mother, Vanessa Jones, had left her child in the care of her boyfriend to visit her cousin for about an hour, according to family sources. Ms. Jones said that she had no knowledge that her lover had ever hit the baby before. Jones has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the slaying, a charge that carries a maximum of 25 years in prison. He has pled not guilty to the charge, and is being held in Suffolk County Jail without bail. NewsOneOriginal reports that Pedro Jones told police he had never hit the toddler “that hard before.” “A one-time mistake and I am going to do 20 years,” he said. Jones is not a member of the Shinnecock Nation as is the infant’s mother, whom the alleged killer said he intended to marry. Her family hopes that Jones will receive a much harsher sentence than incarceration for 20 years. The grandmother of the dead child confronted Jones who was in custody at Southampton Town Court, and shouted at him, “You killed my grandson! I hope you rot in hell!” On Monday night, August 2, approximately 100 members of the Shinnecock Nation gathered to mourn the killing of the infant. “People expressed the need to come together to love one another, to tighten the gap in our community so this doesn’t happen again,” Ms. Donna Collins-Smith, the great aunt of the victim, said to The Southampton Press. “Basically, we’re trying to come together as a family and do the best we can.” The horror of this killing has shocked many around the nation. Jones was apparently so irrationally irritated by behavior patterns in the tot he believed were effeminate that he took matters into his own hands to beat the girlishness out of him. Because the victim was perceived to be gender-variant, the attack was a sexual hate crime according to many commentators. Michael Rowe wrote for the Huffington Post: “The beating death of 17-month-old Roy Jones was no less a hate crime because the victim was a baby. Whether he would have grown up to be gay, or transgender, or just a gentle, sweet-natured straight boy, was still many years away. More, it was irrelevant.” As the Unfinished Lives Project has reported repeatedly, violent crimes against gender non-conforming people of color, especially young boys of color who present femininely, have reached alarming levels in our country. They are among the most vulnerable members of our society, and are paying a terrible price for the irrational hatred of men (and some women!) who feel they must use violence to enforce heterosexist male stereotypes. Baby Roy will never have a chance to show the world who he was becoming. Instead of making him socially acceptable in a hyper-masculine world, the man who said he loved the child, “loved” him to death.