Breaking news: Attacks on Prop 8 supporters focus of trial
by Matthew S. Bajko and Cynthia Laird
Reported attacks on supporters of Proposition 8 were the focus of testimony in the federal trial Thursday, January 21, with attorneys for the Yes on 8 campaign introducing evidence in an effort to show that their supporters were subject to harassment and violence throughout the 2008 campaign.
The line of questioning was brought up in the cross-examination of Stanford political science professor Gary M. Segura, who is testifying as a witness for the plaintiffs. Two same-sex couples who were prevented from marrying in California are challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8 in federal court. The trial entered its eighth day Thursday before U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker.
The questions by Yes on 8 attorney David Thompson tie in with the argument the defendants have been making since the beginning of the trial – that Yes on 8 supporters were victims of harassment and intimidation. Two of their scheduled witnesses pulled out over that issue, and the Yes on 8 side was successful in its effort to block televised access to the proceedings. The United States Supreme Court last week barred Walker from having the trial shown in federal courthouses across the country as well as uploading testimony (on a delayed basis) to YouTube.
Along those same lines, the U.S. Supreme Court last week also agreed to hear a privacy case out of Washington state where opponents of the new domestic partner law are seeking to prevent names of petition signers for the Referendum 71 ballot measure from being made public. Referendum 71 passed last November, keeping the state's more comprehensive DP law in place.
During his cross-examination of Segura on Thursday, Thompson played video snippets from news reports in an effort to make his case. One news report out of San Diego involved Lawrence Pizzicara, 53, of Carlsbad, who was arrested on elder abuse charges after he allegedly punched his two elderly neighbors who had a Yes on 8 sign in their front yard. The woman is shown in the video saying her neighbor is a maniac and that she had never seen him act that way before.
Thompson asked Segura if the report would diminish support for the LGBT community. Segura said that such reports are not the image anyone in the No on 8 campaign would want. He said the news story would not have been favorable to opponents of Prop 8, although he noted that the neighbors have a history of fighting.
Attorney Ted Boutrous, representing the plaintiffs, objected to the relevance of the video. He also noted that the reporter said in the report that it was unclear if the fight was over Prop 8.
Walker overruled him, however, allowing the video into evidence.
Another example Thompson cited came from a November 4, 2008 article in the San Diego Union Tribune. In that story, a male jogger, also from Carlsbad, was assaulted when he tried to prevent people from removing Yes on 8 campaign signs. According to the article, police said that the jogger confronted the men and was assaulted by one of them. The attacker's dog then bit the jogger in the upper leg, according to the article, and the man suffered four deep puncture wounds. The men ran away.
Segura, asked if that would diminish political support for the LGBT community, joked that in this case it would be detrimental to Carlsbad.
An International Business Times article dated October 13, 2008 was about Yes on 8 supporter Jose Nunez being "brutally assaulted" at a church in Modesto as he tried to hand out pro-Prop 8 lawn signs. The assailant reportedly punched Nunez in the face and ran off with the signs.
Upon questioning, Segura said such a story could potentially reduce support but he questioned how many people in California read the International Business Times. He also questioned the accuracy of the report because it was credited to protectmarriage.com, the Yes on 8 campaign.
In another example, Thompson discussed a San Jose Mercury News story from October 28, 2008 about homeowners Tom and Kelly Byrne and another neighbor that had Yes on 8 signs. Their garages were spray-painted with "No on 8" and another homeowner's minivan that was parked on the street was also tagged with red paint.
Segura questioned whether the news story would have any impact on voters since it quoted No on 8 campaign leaders disavowing such activities.
Thompson pressed him, "But politically, it's kryptonite, wouldn't you agree?"
Segura responded that politically, it is disadvantageous.
There was also a local ABC news report out of Fresno about Cornerstone Church being egged a day or two after its pastor spoke at a Yes on 8 rally in downtown Fresno where he disclosed that his house had recently been egged.
Thompson asked Segura if he knew that the mayor of Fresno, who supported Prop 8, received death threats and that pastors also received death threats.
Segura said he had no direct knowledge of that and that he didn't know if the death threats had been staged by Yes on 8 supporters or the campaign itself to curry favor with the electorate.
The professor also pointed out that when San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders testified at the trial on Tuesday, January 19, he said that his house was vandalized. Sanders opposed Prop 8. Segura also said that there were reports of No on 8 supporters being subjected to the same types of tactics that Thompson raised.
Segura also said that these kinds of reports "play better as a PR tactic though they may not serve the long-term interests of the group" publicizing the event. "Sometimes the pubic interprets these acts as a cry for help that may draw on sympathy from the public for their cause."
Hate crime numbers
On Wednesday, January 20 when Segura was on the stand, he brought up that hate crimes over the last five years have increased in violence toward gays and lesbians. Over the last decade, there has been no real improvement in the number of hate crimes.
Using data from FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the plaintiffs' attorneys introduced into evidence data showing in 2008, there were 1,617 hate crimes, targeted toward the gay community. That was an increase from 2005, when there were 1,171.
In 2005 that figure was 14 percent of all hate crimes, while in 2008, the figure represented 17.75 percent of all hate crimes.
"Gay men and lesbians are more likely than any other group to be the target of the most violent, hate-motivated crimes," Segura said. "There is simply no other person in society who endures the likelihood of harm due to their identity than a gay man or lesbian."
In 2008, 71 percent of all hate-motivated murders and 65 percent of all hate-motivated rapes targeted gay men and lesbians.
For Los Angeles, in 2008 the city documented in its hate crime report a 16 percent decline in race and ethnic hate crimes, but a 21 percent increase in hate crimes against gays and lesbians. In its report, the city said the increase was due particularly to the Prop 8 initiative and that the city reported four violent crimes and nine acts of vandalism attributed to the Prop 8 initiative.