Tracking hook-up violence is particularly challenging due to a reluctance on the part of victims to come forward. Everyone seems to have a story about victims declining to file a report.
“Not wanting to report is very odd to me,” said Castro Community on Patrol Chair Greg Carey. “In one case, a friend told our patrollers about a friend of his who’d been mugged. And in a second incident, the boyfriend talked to me about it. I don’t understand this business of not wanting to report. The two I heard about were quite serious — they were robberies and assault. … I can’t explain the rationale as to why they wouldn’t want to report it to the police.”
There are a variety of reasons that victims might be unwilling to report. Among them: embarrassment. Many victims unfairly blame themselves for having been lured into a dangerous situation, particularly if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“When violent crimes happen, many people blame themselves,” said Social Worker and CCOP staffer Damian Ochoa. “they feel bad, like they deserved it. … The emotional and psychological damage that happens after that — it just spirals out of control.”
Talking to someone can help mitigate that damage, and the Castro Patrol can help connect victims with counselors. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is very common with people of violent crime,” said Damian. “You have to take care of yourself.”
Stacy Umezu of Communities United Against Violence pointed to data that might further explain victims’ reluctance. CUAV runs a 24-hour hotline, and sometimes receives reports of police mishandling of crimes.
“A consistent trend that we’ve noticed — and may be a contributing factor of why folks may not want to report to police — is that according to our most recent hate violence numbers from 2007, law enforcement abuse and misconduct in SF was up 113% from previous year,” she said.
According to Stacey, CUAV saw an increase from 40 complaints in 2006 to 85 in 2007. Those are incidents in which someone felt that the SFPD failed to appropriately respond to a crime affecting the LGBT community.
In addition, CUAV saw a spike in what they classify as abusive law enforcement responses to Prop 8. According to a report the organization put out, those responses included “anti-LGBT homophobic slurs; indifference; false arrests; failing to enforce voter polling rights when ‘Yes on 8’ protesters blocked polls; and refusing to take reports.”
But this data doesn’t tell a complete story. In addition to being several years old, it only represents abuse reported to CUAV — not abuses that were definitively substantiated. And “abuse” can cover a very broad range of problems.
“It could be anything from neglecting to respond, or refusing to classify as hate violence or bias violence. It could include not using correct pronouns, or physical assaults,” said Stacy.
And while the 2008 report classifies “indifference” as an example of abuse, a 2001 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) classifies indifference as a positive response, saying, “it may seems strange to view indifference as a positive, however dispassionate service from law enforcement actually represents a sea-change in law enforcement response to LGBT people.”
But whether or not the complaints are legitimate, the fact remains that some LGBTs refuse to contact the police when they’re victims of crime. In many cases, that’s due to a prior negative experience involving the police. The 2001 NCAVP report observes, “a good portion of the services that NCAVP agencies provide is concerned with persuading police to act on their complaints in a meaningful way.” And a 2007 report by Communities United Against Violence claims that the SFPD employed “interrogation techniques that included homophobic harassment and/or violence.”
“In one case, the victim actually knows a police officer,” said Greg of one recent incident, “yet he still hasn’t reported the event.”
A VIOLENT HISTORY
Lapses in communication between LGBTs and the SFPD go back decades, and the effects of the once-acrimonious relationship may linger even today.
“The police department is kind of like a boys’ club,” said CCOP’s Carlton Paul. “It’s hard for the gay community to reach out to that straight archetype and say we have been victimized.”
Tensions between the police and gay community reached their first breaking point in the 1960s. Despite the presence of two prominent LGBT organizations in San Francisco — the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis — the SFPD waged a campaign of harassment against local gays. Arrests were frequent, often for no reason other than congregation; and the Chronicle printed the names of individuals arrested for homosexuality, effectively forcing those people out of the closet.
In the early 60s, the SFPD assigned two officers to liaise between the police and the gay community.
But little progress was made. When a trans customer was refused service at Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin in 1966, activists protested; police arrived to arrest the protesters, who resisted. A riot broke out. A police car was vandalized, windows were broken, and a newsstand was set on fire.
Improvements continued to be slow. In 1974, fourteen gay men were arbitrarily beaten and arrested on Castro Street by police officers with obscured badge numbers. In 1979, when Dan White stood trial for the murder of Harvey Milk and Moscone, police raised over $100,000 for his defense.
When White was given the most lenient sentence possible, a crowd of 1,500 marched from the Castro the City Hall. Milk’s friend Cleve Jones recalled the crowd “screaming for blood,” and after the mob began to attack the building, the SFPD moved in and began to beat people. A dozen police cars were set on fire, tear gas was thrown, and 140 people were injured.
Later that night, the SFPD rioted on Castro Street, beating passers-by for two hours.
Institutionally, the SFPD come a long way. In the 1970s, Police Chief Charles Gain was heavy criticized when he said that he would support gay officers. At that time, it was unthinkable, even in San Francisco, that the police force would include LGBTs.
Since then, the SFPD has undergone a transformation. Today, there are around 200 LGBT officers.
“I know a lot of those guys, and I think it’s easier for a gay man to get a job at the SFPD than it used to be,” Carlton said, but added, “those officers get harassed. Less than in recent years. But it’s still a boys’ club.”
Tomorrow: Building a police force that matches its community