The South Florida Blade is reporting that police have arrested two men charged with attempted felony murder, strong armed robbery and aggravated assault in two separate April 6 attacks on gay men. An anonymous tip led police to the alleged attackers.
One of the victims who sustained a fractured skull is recovering. The other victim is in a coma and is on life-support.
The Hate Crimes Task Force of the Sheriff's office, however, has decided that these attacks are not hate crimes and that the victims were not targeted because they are gay.
I am not ready to buy that conclusion.
According to information available about the case, the attackers were drinking alcohol and smoking pot when they decided it would be "fun" to beat up and rob someone. They went out and selected their victims.
The attackers' expedition may have been initially random, as in "There goes a lone man walking down a deserted sidewalk. Let's get him." But at some point, the attack involves a specific assessment of the victim. In a gay neighborhood (and it would certainly be correct to describe the area of the attacks as "gay"), would these violent attackers have had a pure and unbiased point of view regarding their potential targets? While getting drunk and stoned and steaming with hatred, was the word "gay" never spoken while they planned their attack? If they had encountered someone who looked and acted more like them, someone whom they might have recognized from their neighborhood, would they have made the same vicious attack? Also, and more to the point, are we expected to believe that during the attack, they had no sense that their victims might be gay and that at no point did the viciousness of their attack involve their suspicion that the victims might be gay?
I think that establishing motive is not as easy as the Sheriff's office would like us to accept. The fact that alcohol, pot and robbery were part of the attack should not diminish the possibility that a hate crime was committed. I also do not think we ought to ask the attackers if they chose gay victims or if they were especially vicious in their attack because their victims seemed gay. Why should we put any stock in the words of men who get drunk and stoned and think it sport to go out and attack people?
There is a higher level of sophistication needed in diagnosing hatred and in upholding laws that protect minorities. While hate crimes task forces are a good beginning, their members will need to become more proficient in the discharge of their responsibilities. Few hate crimes are obvious in their earmarks. The attackers may not have been wearing "God Hates Fags" t shirts, but one might assume that they also did not embrace and shed tears at the moment of silence and remembrance during past local Pride parades.
I do not want to be too critical of the Broward County police, but I hope they will get frequent training in understanding homophobia and crimes that really do involve hate.