Gays Plan Anti-Harassment Patrol -- Group Cites Increase In Assaults On Capitol Hill
A gay activist group says it will soon begin patroling the streets of Capitol Hill to combat what it claims is a wave of harassment.
Matt Nagle, co-chairman of the recently formed group Queer Nation, said about 25 members will be trained by the Guardian Angels, a citizen anti-crime group.
The patrols of men and women will begin in three weeks and will try, by its presence, to deter assaults against gays. Nagle said the group will intervene forcibly if necessary.
The patrols are patterned after other groups, such as New York's Pink Panthers, that are attempting to combat gay-bashing.
``This was started in reaction to the proliferation of gay-bashing on Capitol Hill,'' said Nagle, a reporter for the weekly Seattle Gay News. ``This community has received little or no response from the mayor's office and the Police Department.''
Seattle police Maj. Ed Joiner, a patrol commander, wants the gay community to continue working with police.
``I couldn't support something like this (the patrols),'' said Joiner. ``There's a real question of what kind of training they would have and whether they would be able to handle the potentially serious confrontations they could face. I'd worry they could be targets themselves.
``If they are concerned we're not doing our job, they need to come to us and communicate as in the past.''
Joiner said the department has worked hard to improve relations with the gay community since the early 1980s, when a series of assaults occurred in and near Volunteer Park.
Police records show there have been 20 verified cases of malicious harassment against gays during the first nine months of this year. That's roughly the same rate the department reported about three years ago.
But Ed Murray, co-chairman of the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays, which reports to the City Council, says the numbers miss the point.
``Gays and lesbians often feel reporting these crimes exposes them, sort of like coming out, and puts things like their employment and housing situations at issue,'' said Murray. ``Others view the police as less than helpful.''
Murray said he and other members of the commission have received so many reports and complaints from citizens that they scheduled a public forum Oct. 30 to discuss violence against gays.
He said he viewed the patrols as one potential answer.
``If these new patrols can avoid the militaristic tactics sometimes associated with the Guardian Angels, then it will be all right,'' said Murray.
Nine of the 20 cases recorded this year by police involved physical assault. Acknowledging that the statistics may be incomplete, Maj. Pat Lamphere of the crime-prevention unit said that outside of a spate of attacks in August, the situation has seemed relatively quiet.
``Some of the relatively minor harassments may not have been reported,'' she said, ``but because hospitals are required to report injuries that seem to have occurred by assault or even accident, I don't see us missing too many.''
Murray said the commission is conducting awareness seminars with police officers to make them more sensitive to gays and what they interpret as malicious harassment.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force says there were more than 7,000 ``anti-gay episodes'' last year, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault. The pace appears to have accelerated this year, activists say.
Patrick Haggerty, an AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) member who helped start the group's needle-exchange program in Seattle to combat the spread of AIDS, said the patrols are the result of a greater strength inside the gay community.
``The police are not capable of handling it all,'' said Haggerty, a New Alliance Party candidate for the state Senate in the 43rd District. ``This is a really good development. It's like neighbors of a drug-infested area organizing and taking the problem on.''
Nagle said gays have increasingly become a target as they become more visible and as the AIDS epidemic worsens. He pointed at the Idaho trial of three white supremacists who allegedly plotted to plant pipe bombs in a popular Capitol Hill gay nightclub as evidence that harassment is alive.
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