Archive for June, 2009

>Goings on in Bessemer

June 30, 2009

>Today, if you live in Bessemer and nearby areas of Senate district 19, you need to vote. Polls are open until 7:00. The Western Tribune has endorsed Priscilla Dunn, who has been voted legislator of the year twice (even her opponent voted for her).

Tonight, at 6:30, Mayor Ed May will hold his last (thank God) Town Hall Meeting at the Bessemer Civic Center. (I will probably be late, as I have another event with Earl Hilliard, Jr. to attend).

Congratulations to the Bessemer Police Department. Yesterday, they dedicated the new South side Police Substation (first suggested on Bessemer Opinions on June 26, 2007) and today they dedicate the new E-911 Center. Both of these facilities were paid for with drug money confiscated by the department. That’s putting the money to good use. Both of these facilities will contribute to greater public safety, which is needed here.

Neighborhoodscout.com ranks Bessemer as the 9th most dangerous city in America. This was reported by The Western Tribune last week, and comes as a surprise even to those of us who are concerned about the crime rates.

The Mayor and Police chief need to pow-wow and come up with a new strategy to overcome this. The strategy should include informing the public through the Newspapers and through a direct mailing or door to door canvassing that crime is NOT going to be tolerated, and that this includes big crime and little crime. Then, we need to see cops on the beat out of their cars and walking the neighborhoods, because when you walk you can see so much more than when you are driving by (keeping your eyes on the road).

All we want is a safer city. We are not ashamed of our city, as the mayor claimed when we asked about public safety issues. But 9th in the nation? That’s something to be ashamed of.

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>If it quacks like a duck…

June 30, 2009

>President Obama hosted about 250 LGBT leaders yesterday, including Alabama State Representative Patricia Todd and her partner Jen.

During the event, which was streamed live on the White House web site, a duck was heard quacking. Obama reacted, and after realizing it was a cell phone, asked “Where do you guys get these ring tones, by the way?” Trendy Gays, I guess. (Is a duck quack trendy?)

You can read the entire transcript here , or watch…

Obama reaffirmed his commitment to gay equality, had this to say:

We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps. And by the time you receive — (applause.) We’ve been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.

Then he went on to talk about an inclusive hate crimes bill, ENDA, repealing DOMA (defense of marriage act) and DADT (don’t ask don’t tell).

He shifts the burden for all of this to Congress. However, he could just say the word and Dan Choi could remain in the service (Choi’s trial begins today).

So all is not sweetness and light with the President, but we do appreciate the recognition of our struggle, of the length of time the effort has gone on and of the urgency of correcting the wrongs.

>The Empire State Building

June 29, 2009

>At the risk of becoming a travelogue, I continue to post pictures of our New York Trip.

But first, I welcome comments that make sense and that support progress, but a couple of days ago I posted one against my better judgment regarding hate crimes. I responded, then another misinformed reader tried to post another negative comment, and I decided just to delete the original and my response and ignore the more recent one.

Before someone gets all up in arms, this is not an issue of free speech. It’s an issue of not allowing my effort to educate (and entertain) to be diluted by those who want to do us harm.

That’s ridiculous, some might say. How does expressing an opinion different from yours do you (or your cause) harm, you might ask.

This is Joe Holladay, a New York visitor who was beat up by a group of men on the Upper East Side on Saturday.

If I allow people to post comments that might influence someone to be against a hate crimes law, then in a tiny little way, I am contributing to this. In other words, by allowing the voices of hatred to be heard, progress is impeded, and those who act on their hatred feel empowered.

We already had a commenter who rejoiced when a local gay person was the victim of a crime, and that person no longer is allowed to comment here.

If you’ve been to New York you might have viewed the city from the 86 floor observation deck. Here is a guy on the outside of the deck, doing some work on the building’s exterior. Yikes!


Also up there was Lucas Glover, winner of the soggy U. S. Open Golf Championship. He just happened to be touring the city, carrying his trophy around, I guess. I’m not a golf fan, and I had to “use the google” to find his name, but I knew enough to snap a picture.


But you also see views like this.


The little patch of green is Bryant Park, site of the Pride Rally that kicked off NY Pride week. To the immediate right of the park is the library that I wrote about yesterday. And the building with the gold toppers that “cuts” the park in half is the Bryant Park Hotel, which I only mention because it is a really neat looking building and we had coffee and a Belgian brownie at its base.

(This picture came from a hotel review)

>40 Years Ago

June 28, 2009

>Forty years ago today I was most likely at Wald Park swimming pool with my friends and my thoughts were most likely directed toward my upcoming written test and learner’s permit that I was looking forward to. Can you say “Ford Falcon?”

But in New York City a landmark event took place on this date in 1969. The Stonewall Riots took place after police raided The Stonewall Inn (sometimes June 27 is named but the response to the raid really began in the early morning hours of the 28th). Here is how the Inn looked this week. It’s really an unassuming little place, but it was packed the night we visited.


The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was a gathering spot for gays, lesbians and transgender people and raids on such establishments were common. Bar owners were often tipped off about the raids, and the lights would come on and customers would stop any suggestive behavior before the raid began. Sometimes.

On this particular night the clientele got fed up and an uprising occurred. This account at Wikipedia is as good as any of what happened, with good pictures and links.

There is no doubt that the actions of those brave men and women began the movement which is finally beginning to see some progress (although slowly) with the Obama administration.

In New York at the Public Library next to Bryant Park is an exhibit titled 1969 The Year of Gay Liberation.


Inside, the exhibit is on the second floor.


Display cases hold letters written by activists and newspaper articles, photographs and mementos of the event and the following weeks. In runs through the end of June.

The Stonewall Inn is on Christopher Street and is across from Christopher Park, where homeless youth (probably kicked out of their homes for being gay) and others hung out. Now the park is clean and is home to George Segal’s art piece titled “Gay Liberation” of a lesbian couple and a gay male couple. They are cast in bronze and painted white.

You might remember this park from the movie “Big Daddy.” This is the park where Adam Sandler taught the kid to spit. But I digress. (And I will have to watch the movie again to confirm this).

This park has been a gay hangout for decades, and it is said that gay sailors sought R & R here during World War II.

Anyway, today is a day to reflect and to celebrate. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

>Hate Crimes: Sean Kennedy and Jeff Sessions

June 26, 2009

>

Remember when I wrote the post about Sean Kennedy? I also referenced it the other day.

To refresh your memory, Sean was killed during a hate crime near Greenville, South Carolina, in march of 2007. He was lured to a car when a guy asked him for a cigarette. Stephen Moller got out of the car and called Sean “faggot” and punched him so hard it broke Sean’s facial bones and separated his brain from his brain stem.

A few minutes later Moller left a message on one of Sean’s friend’s phone: “You tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand.”

Trouble is, Sean never woke up.

Moller received a five year suspended sentence reduced to three years (with credit for time served). Oh, and 30 days community service.

Why bring this up again?

Because I have just read his mother’s (Elke Kennedy) chapter in Mitchell Gold’s book “Crisis.”

She got the 4:30 am phone call. She rushed to the hospital in disbelief that anything could have happened to her son.

“When I finally got to see my son, my knees buckled. He was lying flat on his back, stitches on his upper lip, blood on his hair and neck, hooked up to a respirator.”

The last word Sean heard was “faggot.”

“At 11:20 pm, …my beautiful Sean was pronounced brain dead. My baby was gone forever. I would never be able to speak with him again, to tell him I love him.”

Even after his death, hate is aimed at his family. How did her church respond?

“After Sean’s death we were no longer welcome at our church. church friends stopped calling – they didn’t want to take sides! We do not belong to any church now. I have been told numerous times by people calling themselves Christians that my son is in hell and that I will go to hell because I love him and I fight for equal rights for all human beings. Although it hurts terribly when people say these things to me, it is nothing compared to the pain of losing my son.”

South Carolina, like Alabama, does not have a hate crimes law that includes sexual orientation or gender identity. Neither does the United States.

We are still waiting to see if an inclusive hate crimes law will be enacted on the federal level, and we can only hold our breath for so long.

Attorney General Holder urged passage of the bill by the Senate, and it could be passed as an amendment to another bill any day. Or not.

Of course Jeff Sessions opened his bigoted mouth during hearings.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the committee, questioned whether data show there is sufficient need to pass hate crimes legislation for LGBT people.

“One of the things that’s important is to know do we have a problem of … noticeable number of cases not being prosecuted in state and local government relating to these kinds of issues that we’re calling hate crimes,” he said.”

First of all, Mr. Sessions, it does not matter whether a “noticeable number” of cases are involved or not. One dead man is enough. Sean’s case was not prosecuted as a hate crime. What if this had been your son, Mr. Sessions, whose brain “ricocheted in his head.”


Secondly, look at the statistics, Mr. Sessions. Yes, hate crimes against gays are up .


This man is dead. He’s part of the statistics. But what you are really saying, Mr. Sessions, is that you don’t give a damn what happens to gay men or the suffering that their mothers go through. That is shameful. But that comes as no big surprise, that’s your party standard.

>Back in the Saddle

June 25, 2009

>

I take a few days off for a much needed vacation and all hell breaks loose. I mean, I miss out on blogging about two Republican sex scandals, only of interest to me because of the hypocrisy (both of these guys were critical of Bill Clinton for his Monica thing and here they are screwing around on their spouses thinking they are immune to discovery and above the rest of the male gender).

So I’m not even going to write about them, except to say that my interest in South Carolina has been heightened, but for a different reason. That will be revealed over the next few days. Nothing surprising, I just don’t have the time right now to write it. And today, I am glad to see the list of potential Republican 2012 Presidential candidates shrinking (my God, it’s just 2009 anyway, we can have a lot more candidates emerge and a lot more Republican sex scandals before the next campaign begins).

I miss out on the demise of City Stages, which it appears is done for.

I miss out on Richard Scrushy…oh, never mind…he’s not worth five words on this blog.

I miss out on the Jefferson County Commission’s hand wringing as they realize that no matter how they twist it and turn it and blame it and point fingers, it’s their ball game and everything comes back to them. Don’t blame the Alabama Supreme Court. Don’t blame the State Legislature. And don’t expect any occupational tax to pass the legislature or pass muster unless it treats all workers fairly and does away with the exemption enjoyed by the privileged.

But this brings a sense of urgency. A Gay Exorcism.

This is what your “ex-gay” ministries are doing, but the damage to kids can be much more subtle from the teachings of so many churches.

While in New York we came across this store:


and you recall that a while back I wrote about Mitchell Gold’s book, “Crisis”.

So we went in the store, which actually sells furniture, of course, and bought the book. The book shares the stories of about 40 gay people and how the church and society affected them and how they overcame it. Well, the one’s who survived. I’m reading it now, and over the next few days will share some of the stories. I have already posted about several of the subjects of the book, and will reference back to them.

Now I hear, too that Michael Jackson has died. What a loss. Maybe not every one’s favorite, but a top entertainer never the less.

Here’s part of the “Thriller” video, which set the bar high for music videos.

Both Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, who also died today, will be remembered with affection.

>How Safe is Bessemer? Western Tribune Column

June 24, 2009

>Public safety is important to families who live in a community, and the issue has been in the local conversation recently following a few high profile crimes. City officials claim that crime rates are decreasing, but a look at the statistics show that this depends on which crime is being measured, and what year is being compared to.

Since the Mayor asked the public to compare crime rates (at a recent Town Hall meeting) we did just that. If we go back to the reports from 2000 (there were no reports submitted for 2001, 2002 or 2003) we see that, yes, homicide, assaults and theft are down. But rape, robbery, burglary and motor vehicle theft are up. If we use the earliest available rates from after he was elected (2004) for comparison, the results are even worse. Murder, rape, assault, burglary and theft have all increased.

Either way, a claim that crime is down is a dubious claim, at best.

But even more disturbing to residents of Bessemer is a comparison to comparable cities. The Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center categorizes cities based on population, and Bessemer is in the 25,000 to 50,000 range. In 2008, there were nine other Alabama cities in that category.

The other cities are Alabaster, Florence, Gadsden, Madison, Opelika, Phenix City, Prattville, Prichard and Vestavia Hills.

If the crime rates from these cities are averaged and compared to Bessemer, one has to agree that changes are needed.
For homicides, in 2008, Bessemer had 5, the other cities average 2. Rapes: Bessemer-27, Others-12. Robbery: Bessemer- 193, Others – 65. Assaults: Bessemer- 354, Others-80. Burglary: Bessemer-1046, Others-348. Theft: Bessemer-2392, Others-911. Motor Vehicle Theft: Bessemer 278-Others-103.

The data does not account for factors such as race, age, economic conditions, etc, and often such factors are considered when performing statistical analysis.

But to use those factors as an excuse for poor numbers is not acceptable. Because race or employment status or other demographic factors should never be an excuse for crime.
The numbers show that in every category, Bessemer is way off the average. No wonder the people of our city are concerned.

The residents of Bessemer deserve to live in a community where they feel at least as safe as the members of similar communities in our state. Anything short of this is unacceptable.

>Health Care Poll

June 22, 2009

>In this morning’s New York Times are the results of a CBS/NYT poll about Health Care.

Would you favor or oppose the government’s offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans?

Favor – 72%, Oppose – 20%.

I favor. Health care is a right not a privilege.

Would you be willing or not willing to pay higher taxes so that all Americans have health insurance that they can’t lose no matter what?

Willing – 57%, Not willing – 37%.

I am willing to help those less fortunate than I by paying a bit more in taxes.

Which is a more serious problem right now: keeping health care costs down or providing health insurance for Americans who do not have any?

Keeping costs down – 26%, Providing for uninsured – 65%.
Among Republicans: Keeping costs down 52%, Providing for uninsured – 44%.
Among Democrats: Keeping costs down 15%, Providing for uninsured – 78%.

I believe providing for the uninsured is more serious. It looks like Republicans are more concerned with keeping a buck or two in their pocket than in helping those less fortunate. Predictable. Shameful.

>Crime Stats

June 18, 2009

>I want to modify my earlier post. I don’t have any direct evidence that the Bessemer Police Department is either homophobic or racist. But I do detect a lack of sensitivity or concern. Of course, this may just be perception, a term thrown around a lot recently.

But crime statistics are not perception.

The Mayor, and the Chief of Police, both have spoken of the reduced crime rates as evidence that public safety is not to be a concern. A little research led to this info. All of the information is available at the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center web site.

The Mayor said, at the Town Hall Meeting on Dartmouth Avenue, to compare current crime rates with past rates. He was elected in 2002, but, oddly enough, Bessemer did not report its crimes to the state that year, or the year before or the year after. Hmmm. That in itself is worth investigation.

So, let’s compare to 2000, the last year before the mayor was elected that we have stats for, to 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. We actually went back to 1991, just for fun, but for our comparison, we use 2000. Handy little chart for the crimes that the state keep stats on…

Between 2000 and 2008 Homicide, Assaults and Theft are down. Those are the good stats.

But Rape (21 up to 27), Robbery (174 to 193), Burglary (802 to 1046) and Motor Vehicle Theft (234 to 278) are up from 2000 to 2008.

If you start at 2004, the first year after the election of the current mayor that we have statistics for, we find that Murder, Rape, Assault, Burglary and Theft are all up in 2008, and the other two categories, Robbery and Motor Vehicle theft are down by just 4 and 2 respectively.

So let’s not brag too much about decreased crime rates.

But when a guy that’s had a couple of semesters of statistics and has a degree in a field that requires a whole bunch of statistics gets on a site with so much information, a little deeper digging is bound to occur.

It did. But you will be held in suspense because it’s I’m still working on it. You will probably see it in my column next week in the Western Tribune.

Here is Corey John, of Toronto (where gays can marry), who was assaulted this month.

“My back was turned, I did not see him coming and he hit me with a beer bottle,” says John. “I just felt the blood gushing down my face, [said] ‘You hit me, dude,’ and they all began running up an alley.”

(Again, thanks to Andy Towle for the link.)

>Hate Crimes

June 17, 2009

>Update: Please read this post where I modify what I said in this one.

Be sure to read my Western Tribune column, which follows this post. It is on a related subject.

While I am pleased that a Federal Hate Crimes bill including sexual orientation might soon become a reality, down here in the real world things are not so encouraging. The images you will see here are disturbing, and let’s be glad that they don’t come from Bessemer. But let’s not wait until one of our friends is pictured in this way (or worse) before we do something about it.

I am really concerned about my community. For the most part, a community can only be as strong as its leaders. That is unfortunate when the leaders are complacent about crime after two home invasions, both targeting minorities. You may get tired of reading about this, but until the Mayor of Bessemer (Ed May) and the Bessemer Police Department (led by chief Nathaniel Rutledge) realize that the white people and the gay people and the Hispanic people deserve the same protections and respect as the rest of the residents, I will keep the conversation going.

This is Ronnie Robertson, a 31 year old man from Ohio who was attacked last month after answering a question (“a mix of gay and straight people chose Tabby’s to play sand volleyball – but were harassed by a man who continued to ask who in the group was gay and who wasn’t & her brother finally answered. ‘When he admitted that he was, they lost it, went crazy and started attacking my brother and pushing him out of the bar.”)

From what I heard last night, had this crime occured in Bessemer, it would not have been investigated. The victim would have been called a liar by the police. The victim would have been accused by the Mayor of being friends with his attackers. The police department would be criticized by other law enforcement agencies for ignoring the evidence and turning a blind eye.

This is Eric Patten, a 20 year old man “charged with assaulting two young gay women in Provincetown,” last month.

While he is the one charged, he obviously picked the wrong lesbians to attack.

“At around 1:08 a.m. Saturday morning in Provincetown pedestrians alerted police to a fight on Commercial Street at the Post Office Café, an eatery in the center of town. Police saw Patten punching a woman on the ground, according to police Sgt. Carrie Lopes. The victim was one of two women, ages 22 and 23, who were allegedly assaulted by Patten. He is accused of punching one of the women with his right fist and calling the two women “faggots,” thinking they were gay men.”

Had this attack occurred in Bessemer, I do not have confidence that an arrest would have been made. If a report was even filed, it might have said “criminal mischief” or some such bull crap.

The Mayor and Chief cite statistics that crime is down. But their statistics are based on reporting. And when a man’s door is broken in an attempt to gain entry, something more than “criminal mischief” has occurred.

This is Lance Neve, who in March, 2008 was assaulted in Rochester, NY


“According to Ogden police, Lance Neve, 26, was with his partner, Osbert Maldonado, 28, of Rochester, and another friend at Snuggery’s Bar in Spencerport the night of March 7. They allegedly were subjected to derogatory comments throughout the night from Jesse D. Parsons, 24, of Spencerport. About 1 a.m. on March 8, Parsons apparently asked to shake Neve’s hand because he had never shaken a gay man’s hand, said Ogden police Investigator Scott Okolowicz. Neve refused, and Parsons then allegedly grabbed Neve and beat him up. When police arrived, Neve was unconscious. He was transported to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for a fractured skull, nose, left eye socket and upper jaw bone and blood on the brain, Okolowicz said.”

His attacker got 5 1/2 years and has to pay over $24,000 in medical expenses. Had this attack occured here, Neve probably would have been out of luck. I say that, because there are indications that while individual police officers are fine men and women, the Police Department has an undercurrent (or tidal wave) of homophobia.

It will take more than a statement from the Chief to counter this. Evidence of qualified diversity training which includes sexual orientation and evidence of a policy which shows respect toward the LGBT community might do it.

h/t to Andy Towle at Towleroad for the pictures and quotes.