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Report: Suspected Hate Killings Hit Record in 2017

by Seth Hemmelgarn

NCAVP's Beverly Tillery
NCAVP's Beverly Tillery  (Source:Courtesy Twitter)

The number of suspected anti-LGBTQ homicides in the U.S. hit a record of 52 in 2017, according to a recent report.

While the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs' counts killings where the motive isn't known in its tally, the report highlights concerns that many have had since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, whose support for anti-gay activists and white supremacists is believed to have helped spark an increase in hate crimes.

Hate crimes was also the subject at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing in January.

According to NCAVP, the 52 killings last year was up from 28 in 2016, an increase of 86 percent.

"This report is a wake-up call for all of us," Beverly Tillery, the New York-based nonprofit's executive director, said in a January 22 news release announcing the report, "A Crisis of Hate."

"Our communities live in an increasingly hostile and dangerous climate, after a year of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies coming from the White House" and other sources, stated Tillery. "... We must bring more attention and action to deal with this epidemic of violence and work across all of our diverse communities to protect the most vulnerable and stand up to the hostile forces that have created this unacceptable climate of hate."

Among the deaths highlighted in the report are two California killings that police haven't indicated were hate crimes.

Most recently, Anthony "Bubbles" Torres, 44, was fatally shot on Larkin Street early one morning in September near the gay Gangway bar, which closed last month, and the New Century Theater strip club. Torres, a gay artist known for donning huge blond wigs and skimpy women's clothing, had reportedly gotten into an altercation with someone from the strip club.

The San Francisco Police Department has issued an arrest warrant for city resident Hieu Trung Nguyen, 30. Police have said Nguyen "should be considered armed and dangerous." No arrests have been reported.

In May, Fresno resident Imer Eliu Alvarado, 34, was fatally shot in the middle of the night about a mile away from two of the city's gay bars. Police originally reported that Alvarado was a transgender individual, but friends said he was gay.

Fresno police homicide Lieutenant David Madrigal told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent email that the case "is still open and active. There are not any details that I can release at this time. I hope to have some in the near future."

SF Hate Crimes Hearing

According to data that the SFPD presented in December to the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, 18 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes were reported in the city in 2016. In 2017, the number dropped to 13.

Of the 40 overall hate crime incidents reported last year, 20 arrests were made.

At the public safety committee's anti-LGBTQ hate crimes hearing in January, gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who represents the Castro district and other neighborhoods, indicated that he'd wanted to have the meeting after the state attorney general reported in July that hate crimes had risen from 2015 to 2016.

According to the attorney general's office, there were 837 bias-motivated incidents in 2015 and 931 in 2016, an 11.2 percent increase. Hate crime incidents related to the victim's sexual orientation went from 188 to 207, an increase of 10.1 percent.

"San Francisco was among the Bay Area cities with the highest reported numbers," said Sheehy, who attributed much of the problem to Trump, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Citing data from a 2015 assessment by the city's Human Rights Commission, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen said that "over a third of LGBTQI people do not trust the police," and she asked SFPD hate crimes liaison Sergeant Monica Macdonald how police are "addressing these really dismal statistics?"

Macdonald pointed to police academy training, attendance at community meetings, and a training video meant to help officers around the state learn "to better investigate these crimes" and ensure that victims are "getting the services and support they need." She also referred to the "It Gets Better" video the department made several years ago.

Macdonald, who attended the hearing with Lieutenant David O'Connor, the officer in charge for the SFPD's Special Investigations Division, said that there's been an increase in calls from officers in the field asking whether incidents meet the criteria of being a hate crime.

Ronen suggested a follow-up meeting on community mistrust and said that the committee "might" want to bring in Chief William Scott.

Sheehy said he was "incredibly disappointed" that nobody from SFPD's command staff attended the hearing, calling their absence "disrespectful" to the community.

Ronen and Fewer agreed with Sheehy, who also spoke of underreporting hate crimes. He mentioned "people who prey on trans sex workers, knowing that they're very unlikely to report violence for a whole host of reasons." (At the time of the hearing, Ronen chaired the committee and Sheehy was the vice chair. Their roles are now reversed.)

Cristine Soto DeBerry, District Attorney George Gascón's chief of staff, told the committee that police have been presenting more cases to the DA's office and prosecutors have been charging more cases over the last four years.

DeBerry added that last year, prosecutors charged four cases as hate crimes that police hadn't brought to them as hate crimes because "with a little more time in our office, where we were able to consider the facts, we felt that a hate crime is appropriate."

Of the 27 hate crime cases the DA's office charged in 2017, six had LGBT victims, she said.

In an interview with the B.A.R. Officer Robert Rueca, a police spokesman, said it's "unfortunate" that many people don't trust police.

"We want to serve every community," said Rueca. "We strive in making sure we put the best foot forward in every incident, in every investigation, and in everything we do. In doing that, we hope to gain the trust of the public, whichever community they may be part of."

He indicated he didn't know why command staff wasn't sent to the meeting, but "the department sent two of its experts on hate crimes to present information and to bring back any feedback."

O'Connor and Macdonald are "the people on the ground," said Rueca. "They're the people who handle this every day, so we feel there couldn't have been better representatives in discussing the issues around hate crimes."

No follow-up hearing has been set.


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