Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Black Gay and Beaten, What Responsibility Does the Victim Have?

A young Black men was exiting a store when he was set upon by several other men, who were also Black. They kicked him and punched him repeatedly while screaming a gay slur.  At this time, the victim has failed to come forward and so we have not idea whether he is indeed gay, however there can be no doubt that homophobia was absolutely the inspiration for this attack given the slurs that were shouted during the beating.

What follows is a video of the attack.  Please be forewarned that it is extremely graphic as it caught the assault from start to finish.  Trigger warnings apply.




As Project Q Atlanta is noting, one of the attackers -- who is reportedly part of an Atlanta gang called the Pittsburgh Jack City Gang -- shouted "no faggots in Jack City" in the original clip. The language, and other slurs, have since been removed as part of the news broadcast.

Sharon Stapel, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, which runs the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), told The Washington Post that the footage is an “incredibly disturbing representation of the physical violence that LGBT people face every day in this country." Acknowledging the victim may not have actually been gay, she added, "This man was just walking out of a corner store, and he was attacked. It's a really tragic and clear reminder of what the reality is like for some in the LGBT community, and how senseless and incomprehensible it is that someone would attack someone just because they thought they were gay."

FBI officials say they are working to determine if the actions seen in the video violate federal law, including the hate crime statute. But, as Atlanta police told CBS, even though they have sufficient evidence that a crime took place, the victim remains unidentified. "We;re hopeful the victim is going to come forward or someone will tell us who he is," said officer John Chafee.[source]
I am going to start off by saying that what happened this victim was absolutely wrong.  There is no justifying violence, though this sort of behaviour is deeply encouraged by our homophobic society. Is there anything more demoralizing than to be beaten and attacked for who you are?

Police are currently investigating this incident, but their investigation is greatly hampered by the fact that the victim has not come forward.  As was stated in the video, this is not uncommon.  I want to address the current push for the victim to identify himself.  Where he was beaten could very well be in the community in which he resides, thus making him vulnerable to more attacks, should he step forward and identify his attackers.  Members of this community have already proven that they have no problem attacking him.  We all know that so-called police protection is not going to keep him safe. To come forward could potentially risk his life and this especially true because the attackers are alleged to be members of a gang. 

In rape cases, there is also a similar push for the rape victim to come forward.  Many believe that without a report of rape, that this frees the rapist to attack someone else and therefore puts the responsibility on the victim to stop the rapist.  The same sort of trend is happening with this story, with its push for the victim to come forward.  This not an empowering thought.  The only person responsible for an abusers actions, is the abuser.

In the end, it is up to victim to decide how they want to deal with this incident. I would dearly love to see these men receive the justice that they deserve, but even more than that, I want to see the victim supported and their agency and privacy respected.  So much has already been taken from him, and he will have to live with the results of this beating, everyday for the rest of his life.  This is an incredibly hard burden to bear, and no amount of understanding is going to make this burden easier to carry.

We don't know if he is suffering from PTSD, or if any other mental issues have developed because of the beating. If he is gay, we don't know if he is out to his family, friends, and at his workplace, or what the result of being out would mean for him.  It is not uncommon to be actively rejected by loved ones, once a member of the GLBT community comes out.  If he is gay and closeted, this could absolutely factor into his decision not to report the assault. Given the media coverage of this incident, it is highly likely that his private life will be placed under a microscope for all to examine. Though law enforcement is taking this incident seriously that does not mean he will not be subject to more homophobic bullying in the media.  Victims are not necessarily granted respect, even when there is clear evidence that a wrong has been committed against them.

In all of our calls for justice, I think we need to make sure that we respect the right of the victim not to come forward if this is what he chooses.  I also think we need to make it clear that regardless of his decision, he is not responsible if they go on to abuse someone else.  If we are incapable of creating a safe environment for the victims of assault, then I don't think that socially we have the right to pressure them.  Over and above justice, our priority should be creating a safe space, and hoping that he has someone to turn to in his time of need.  These men who beat him are evil in every sense of the word, but my first concern is for the man that they assaulted.   He does not owe anyone anything.