Omaha, Nebraska – A 23-year-old man sits in jail today, charged with felony arson for burning his Lesbian neighbors’ Rainbow flag, and for resisting arrest after he stole the flag from their porch Sunday morning. WOWT reports that Cameron Mayfield, who lives down the street within eyeshot of Ariann Anderson and Jess Meadows-Anderson, grabbed their pride flag, set it afire, and drove down the street in an act the couple says was a hate-filled attack on them.
Around midnight Sunday morning, the two spouses were awakened by what they first thought was an attempt to break in their home. They checked to see that their daughter was unharmed, and then caught sight of the source of the commotion. Looking out their window, they say a familiar van racing down the street with someone brandishing what looked like a burning stick out of the van’s driver side window. It took some moments before the Meadows-Andersons realized that the “burning stick” was once their Rainbow pride flag they flew from their porch.
The women say that the crime rattled them, not so much because they feared the act of burning their pride flag itself. It was the hate behind the act that continues to disturb them. “It goes beyond vandalism or a threat,” they said to WOWT. “That’s a direct attack.” In another interview with KETV, Jess Meadows-Anderson said, “The actual act itself isn’t terrifying or anything like that, but the intent is.”
“That flag has been hanging on the back of our house, on the back deck, for five years,” Meadows-Anderson told KETV News. “In light on the ruling that we are all waiting for, we decided to move it to the front porch as of last Thursday. This is the first time we’ve had anything like this happen.”
The ruling that they are awaiting, of course, is for the judicial system to strike down Nebraska’s same-sex marriage ban, making it legal for a same-sex couple to be married in the Corn Husker State. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Batailon issued an injunction striking down the state’s ban enacted in 2000, according to LGBTQNation. In 2011, the Meadows-Andersons were legally married in a large ceremony in Iowa, but they intend to marry in Nebraska when it becomes legal to do so.
The couple’s focus on love and happiness makes the flag theft and burning by their young neighbor all the more unsettling to them. Ariann Anderson says she has no recollection of any run in with Cameron Mayfield before, but his father told WOWT News that his son had mentioned a previous encounter with Anderson that bothered him. Mayfield’s father also said that the night before his son burnt the flag, the young man was drinking heavily and dwelling too much on losing his job.
The Lesbian couple say they almost feel sorry for their young neighbor, since this felony will follow him for a long time, and complicate his life. But, on the other hand, they also say that this act of discord and hate makes them wonder who else out there has it in for them and their family. Rather than be intimidated by the attack on their personhood, the couple has replaced the destroyed Rainbow flag with an even larger on that now proudly waves from their front porch in the same bracket the other one occupied before Sunday morning.
The good news in all of this is that the Omaha police acted quickly, and within 45 minutes they had located Mayfield’s van and made the arrest. Though the District Attorney has not yet said that this incident was a bias-motivated crime, police are investigating as if it were one. Mayfield’s father, on the other hand, says that he can’t imagine that his son would act out of hatred against neighbors who live only 10 houses down the street.
In the meantime, the Meadows-Andersons have the more pressing problem of explaining to their daughter why this happened on their quiet street. And Cameron Mayfield awaits trial for the charge of 2nd degree felony arson.
Was this an anti-LGBT hate crime, or a stupid mistake under the influence of alcohol? We at Unfinished Lives Blog suspect it is pretty much equally both. Anti-LGBTQ hatred is far from over in this country, no matter what surveys may say. People in Omaha know that, now.
Lincoln, Nebraska – Two lesbians were attacked Thursday by a man wielding a crowbar for supposedly shaming his family. When the attack failed, he and his friend rammed the women’s car with a pickup truck, attempting to push the women’s vehicle into oncoming traffic. KLKN TV reports that Ahmed Tuma and his accomplice, Nathan Marks, both 20 years of age, took offense when Tuma’s sister announced she was a lesbian, and became engaged to her fiancée. Tuma allegedly believed his sister’s relationship with a woman shamed his family, enraging him to the point he enlisted Marks to accompany him on an ambush. Prior to the attack, Tuma had made death threats against his sister. Lincoln Police Department spokesperson Officer Katie Flood confirmed, “They were in fear for their lives, he had made some verbal threats to kill the sister.”
Gay Star News says that the lesbians had pulled their car near their home, and had just gotten out to enter the house at approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday when Tuma rushed them, brandishing a crowbar. The women escaped back to the safety of their car just as the brother swung the weapon. They frantically tried to start the car as Tuma hit the vehicle’s windows repeatedly, trying to smash them out. When the lesbians succeeded in starting their car, Tuma rushed back to Marks’s pickup, and the two men rammed their victims’ auto in an apparent attempt to push it into the traffic speeding by. The couple was able to get away from their assailants, and called police.
Police arrested Tuma for attempted 2nd degree assault, criminal mischief, two counts of terroristic threats and use of a weapon to commit a felony. All of the charges except use of a weapon carry a hate crime enhancement. Marks was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting a terroristic threat, and aiding and abetting the use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. Both men have been arraigned, and will stand trial for the hate crimes in a Lincoln court.
Omaha, Nebraska – A straight friend of two gays stepped up to defend them from harassment by three belligerent men, and received a thrashing for it. Refusing to retaliate, Ryan Langenegger stood his ground, battered and bloody, and asked his assailants the one question all fearful, homophobic people should have to answer: “Why?”
KMTV Action News 3 reports that Langenegger, who self-identifies as heterosexual, and his out gay friends, Josh Foo and Jacob Gellinger, had dropped into Omaha’s popular Old Market late Saturday night to grab a bite to eat at PepperJax Grill when the three alleged homophobes approached their table. Gellinger who was wearing a dress that evening was the initial target of the most vocal of the men, who called him “disgusting” and the others “faggots.” Attempting to avoid a confrontation, Gellinger, Foo, and Langenegger left the grill, but their three harassers followed them outside and intensified their name-calling. According to Huffington Post, Langenegger stepped between the belligerents and his friends, saying that they should just leave the gay men alone. One of the verbal assailants then punched Langenegger so hard it chipped two of his teeth, deeply gashed his brow between his eyes, and left his face a bloody wreck.
Josh Foo wrote up his own account of what happened on his Facebook page, expressing appreciation for the courage of his straight friend. Referring to a photo of Langenegger taken soon after the assault, Foo posted: “This photo was taken soon after Ryan stood up for my friend and I after being called ‘faggots’,’disgusting’, etc. by a group of men at a restaurant who then followed us outside. We did not provoke this in anyway and also did not retaliate after the assault. Ryan, after being hit, paused and looked at the men and asked ‘Why’? which was the question we were all wondering since we did not do anything wrong besides be ourselves. What Ryan did meant a lot to me and I thank him for standing up for his friends and accepting them for who they are in everyway. He’s a great friend. The world needs more people like him.”
In an interview with KMTV 3, Langenegger called the entire incident “sad, very sad,” going on the say that he sees this sort of harassment against gay people all the time in Omaha. Asked if he thought standing up for his friends was worth the beating he took, Langenegger said “yes!” with no hesitation, adding “It just makes no sense this day and age and in Omaha, for all of this stuff to still be happening and out in the streets.” He hopes that the news of this unprovoked attack will serve as a wake-up call to the LGBTQ community.
Meanwhile, authorities are seeking leads in the case. In the face of unreasoning hatred, Ryan Langenegger’s one-word question demands an answer on behalf of us all: “Why?” May Mr. Langenegger’s tribe increase everywhere, until homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia have vanished from among us.
Lincoln, Nebraska – “I am not a pawn in a game, you know. I am a person.” Charlie Rogers, the victim of an alleged hate crime mutilation in the Nebraska capital city spoke out for the first time in an extended interview on KETV Omaha on Thursday. Rogers, a 33-year-old small business owner who lives openly as a lesbian, said she decided to grant the interview in response to media reports that police were investigating if her report was a hoax.
The five-minute interview shows the passion and hurt Ms. Rogers feels as the victim of a horrific home invasion, allegedly by three masked men early on Sunday who stripped her, bound her with zip ties, carved anti-gay slurs into her flesh, and then attempted to set the house on fire. Her harrowing experience did not end with a stay in the hospital and then in a safe house where she has been recovering since the attack. Now Ms. Rogers has to deal with the suspicions unleashed by doubts about her report of what happened to her in the dead of night in her own home. “It feels like a kick in the stomach,” she told KETV, even though she understands that there will always be doubters. “Being a victim in situation like this or a survivor and then having your integrity questioned, I guess, it feels very victimizing again,” Rogers said. “It makes an already difficult situation more difficult because my world has been changed forever by these events.” Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood suggested to NBC that they were investigating all aspects of the case, including whether Ms. Rogers made the whole thing up. The media seized on the suggestion of a hoax immediately, sensationalizing the story of this outrage into an inquest into the victim’s credibility.
Investigators found three spray-painted anti-gay epithets in Ms. Rogers’ home, including one that read, “We Found U Dyke!” Coupled with the victim’s report that the attack was motivated by homophobia, and the slurs sliced into her skin, all these factors have led police to proceed as if this case was a hate crime based on sexual orientation.
But the hate crime investigation notwithstanding, Lincoln’s populace is reportedly plagued by doubts. Speculation mounted in the days before Ms. Rogers’ interview–“what if…?”
Ms. Rogers’ attorney, Megan Mikolajczyk, told CNN that her client wanted to dispel as much of the doubt as she could. Mikolajczyk said she wasn’t surprised that there were people who wondered if the attack really ever happened at all. She also said that Ms. Rogers was not answering any one person’s doubts in particular. “I don’t think it’s safe or necessary to point the finger at any one individual,” Mikolajczyk said. “I think it’s par for the course for any sort of high-profile incident for people to question what happened.”
Sadly, Ms. Rogers’ attorney is right: it is “par for the course” for doubts to be raised about the veracity, mental state, motives, and character of LGBTQ hate crimes victims whenever they are targeted by violent attacks. Such suspicion may or may not aid investigators to arrive at the truth in cases like this one, but it surely re-victimizes the person wounded or killed in such attacks. “We-doubt-you” stories in the press and on TV also rob many of these outrageous crimes of their news worthy power to draw badly needed national attention to the soaring increases in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. Blame and besmirch the victims of hate crimes is one of the leading ways heterosexist communities control gay people, as dozens of stories on the Unfinished Lives Blog show. One has to wonder whether statements of police officers to the media about hoaxes are less about the search for forensic truth than the desperation of the status quo to stay intact when revelatory events begin to disturb the public.
Ms. Rogers, an avid LGBTQ advocate, community volunteer, and former University of Nebraska basketball star, deserves a great deal of credit for coming forward to set the record straight, and to quell as much of the doubt as she can. Time will tell who is right, but time is also of the essence as the trail of the alleged attackers grows increasingly cold. Many in Lincoln, hundreds of not thousands, do believe Charlie Rogers, and support her full recovery even as they remain watchful that police investigators carry out a thorough, speedy search for the truth in this case, and expeditiously bring these hate criminals to justice.
Lincoln, Nebraska – The Lincoln Police Department announced today that the 22-year-old man who allegedly bashed a gay man outside a gay club last Friday lied about his identity and used a fake ID card. The Journal Star reported on Labor Day that the man claiming to be Luke Stevens is actually Lucas M. Clifford, 19 years of age. There is no confusion about his role in the gay bashing, however, since a police officer saw Clifford throw a punch at a 32-year-old gay man after using anti-gay slurs and epithets. As the Journal Star reports, “Lincoln Police Capt. Jim Davidsaver said Monday that Lucas M. Clifford, 19, 1014 Claremont St., was cited Friday evening on suspicion of possessing an Indiana ID that gave his name as Luke Stevens, 22.” It is not known as of this writing about whether Clifford, then thought to be Stevens, was indeed a UNL student as reports suggested on Friday. The citation for using a fake ID deepens the trouble Clifford is already in for the attack outside Club Q. He was charged for third-degree assault and commission of a hate crime in Lancaster County Court on Friday. While the name of the man charged with these offenses remains “Luke Stevens” on the record this Monday, his true identity will replace the false one on all court documents and police records, according to Captain Davidsaver. A bit more detail about the assault has been released to the press. Clifford went to Club Q Thursday night, September 2, and stayed at or about the bar all night. The first Thursday of each month, Club Q sponsors an amateur “Strip Night” contest offering cash prizes, an event that has proved popular in the community, drawing men and women to the bar for excitement and inexpensive drinks. Clifford would not have had to use a fake ID to gain entrance to the club, since persons 19 and older were admitted. At some point in the evening, Clifford’s advances toward a girl attending the event were spurned, and he became outraged at her rejection. At about 1:40 a.m., Clifford and a 19-year-old friend, Travis Garrett, went out of the bar, where the verbal abuse and attack against a gay man took place in the sight of a Lincoln Police officer, who arrested the alleged assailant on the spot after a short struggle. The victim was treated for minor injuries on the scene and released. Garrett, Clifford’s friend, was also arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. A statement on the Facebook site for Club Q credits the hate crime attack with galvanizing the LGBTQ community to face the threat: “It was great to see so many people respond to the whole hate crime situation. It was an unfortunate event but the positive side to it is that the GLBTF community rallied and that can only make us stronger and more cohesive.”
Lincoln, Nebraska – A 22-year-old University of Nebraska – Lincoln student has been arrested and charged for assaulting a gay man outside a popular gay club on Friday, September 3. Luke Stevens allegedly harassed a 32-year-old gay man after leaving Lincoln’s Club Q, calling him “derogatory names” concerning his sexual orientation intended to start a fight, according to 1011now. As the target of the abuse tried to leave his antagonist, Stevens allegedly punched him in the face, and moved in to continue the fight. A police officer on the scene was drawn to the noise of the altercation, saw the punch thrown, and wrestled Stevens to the ground. The victim of the assault remains unidentified to the press. He was treated on the scene and released to return home. “The victim and several witnesses reported that Luke Stevens did not know them,” Officer Katie Flood, spokesperson for the LPD, told reporters. “He started calling them derogatory names based on their sexual orientation.” Stevens was charged with assault, disturbing the peace, and failure to comply. Because Nebraska has hate crimes legislation on the books, Stevens may be charged with bias crime, which would make his situation much more grave. If proven guilty of a hate crime, the enhancement would hike the misdemeanor assault charge to a felony. The Journal Star reports that the Nebraska hate crimes statute covers offenses carried out due to the victim’s “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability.” Travis Garrett, 19, a friend of Stevens, was also charged with disturbing the peace. Stevens and Garrett were in Club Q together earlier in the evening, as well as Stevens’s victim. Witnesses and friends of the accused UNL student say that he is straight. That evening he was extremely upset at having been turned down by a girl. The contrast between the response of authorities in Lincoln and a similar anti-gay assault in Greenville, South Carolina three years earlier could not be starker. Both involved punches thrown at a gay man after verbal anti-gay harassment outside a bar. But in the case of Sean William Kennedy, 21, who was hit in the face outside Croc’s Bar in Greenville, an upstate South Carolina college town, both the outcome and the legal repercussions were outrageous. As Unfinished Lives has reported, Kennedy was hit by Steven Moller, an 18-year-old straight man spoiling for a fight with a gay person, in May 2007. Kennedy fell to the curb, hit his head on the concrete, and died. Moller was arrested and charged with manslaughter, since the Palmetto State did not have an anti-gay hate crimes law (and still resists passage of such legislation). While Nebraska police and prosecutors stand ready to investigate the assault in Lincoln as a hate crime, South Carolina officials refused to do so in the Kennedy case, giving Moller (who admitted attacking his victim) every benefit of the doubt. In the end, with time served, Moller received less of a sentence for killing Sean Kennedy than if he had been found guilty of killing a dog. For more up-to-date information on Sean Kennedy, see Sean’s Last Wish. We at Unfinished Lives only wish some of the same conscientious law enforcement had been available to the family and friends of young Sean. Moller is now a free man for lack of the will to bring anti-gay attackers to justice. What a difference a hate crimes law makes!
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.