As queer visibility increases, advocates say hostility follows in its wake
Solis was assaulted just after leaving the annual Folsom Street East block party, on 28th west of Tenth Avenue, sponsored by Gay Male S/M Activists, and his case illustrates the spike in violence against the community which many leaders believe is, in part, a response to greater visibility. Official actions taken in the wake of his assault also raise questions about whether the NYPD has uniformly improved its ability to respond effectively to anti-gay violence.
Three days after Solis was attacked, on June 23, an employee of the Eagle, a gay bar also on 28th Street west of Tenth Avenue, was reportedly walking on the same block on which Solis was beaten and was assaulted by two men who punched him in the face, a source close to the victim told Gay City News. The victim did not report the incident to police.
There were other reported incidents of violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community carried out over Pride Week, some of which are being treated by police as hate crimes, others that simply carry the sting of a homophobic intention felt but not officially recognized.
Paul Colville of Long Island City, Queens, was beaten and robbed in the entrance to his co-op complex as he returned dressed in drag from a Gay Pride gathering at nearby restaurant in the early morning hours of June 27. Since his attackers did not verbally abuse him, but money was taken from him, his case is being treated by police as an assault and robbery.
An attack made on three men in a White Castle restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at roughly the same time as the Long Island City assault, is the subject of a hate crimes investigation because the four perpetrators taunted the victims with homophobic slurs before physically assaulting them.
Officials who joined Solis at the June 26 press conference, including out gay state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Chelsea), said his assault underscores the need for heightened vigilance by the public and law enforcement officers of homophobic violence, particularly in heavily gay areas of the city and at times of high gay visibility.
The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) cited a 43 percent rise in reported incidents of hate crimes against LGBT individuals from 2002 to 2003. According to statistics provided by the New York Police Department’s bias crimes unit, that increase is even greater, at 82 percent.
“This is the first time that NYPD’s numbers have been higher than ours,” said Basil Lucas, coordinator of hate crimes and police relations at AVP. “This is unprecedented in our history.”
The block where Solis was attacked has basketball courts and open areas where young people, some of them residents of the neighboring housing projects, socialize.
“It’s been a delicate dance since the Eagle moved in,” said Lucas. “This is not the first time we’ve had problems in that area.”
Lucas and other community leaders and elected officials who work closely with the LGBT community say the NYPD’s bias crimes unit is “doing an excellent job” at tracking and addressing hate crimes.
But the details of Solis’ case suggest that one unit of the NYPD, the Public Service Area, or PSA, responsible for patrolling housing areas such as those belonging to the New York City Housing Authority, may require additional training in order to deal effectively with offenses against the LGBT community.
“The PSAs receive the same training that the rest of the force does,” said Christine Quinn, the lesbian Chelsea city councilmember, who called the press conference at which Solis spoke. “Perhaps it’s not training that they need—it’s retraining.”
Quinn said that she has arranged to meet with the presiding officer at PSA 4 to discuss how officers from that unit failed Solis on the night he was attacked.
It was around 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 20, when Solis, 38, of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, departed the Folsom Street East event, one of whose beneficiaries, ironically, was the AVP.
Solis was walking east on 28th Street, accompanied by a friend, around whose shoulders he had put his arm. At the middle of the block, next to Chelsea Park, a concrete playground, the pair encountered, according to Solis, a group of “kids, about 20 years old. There were no fewer than 15. There was a lot of motion and yelling.”
It soon became apparent to Solis that the crowd was spraying water on men departing the block party, some dressed in leather or fetish wear.
When Solis himself was sprayed, he turned to the person who had wet him and asked, “What the fuck is your problem?”
The young man was quickly joined by another, both of them carrying bats, and the pair began beating Solis.
“I was hit at least three times,” said Solis. “I was hit in the head and on each forearm at least once.”
Solis got away from the attackers by moving closer to them, diminishing the space available for the assailants to wind up and swing at him.
“I would run toward them,” he said. “They started backing away and tried to swing. I followed them for a couple of yards and then they turned their backs and ran away.”
Solis then called 911 to request police assistance. Pain from his injuries began intensifying and he feared that he had a broken bone in his left arm.
According to Solis, the officers dispatched to the scene, from PSA 4, which patrols the area’s public housing residences, were negligent and unresponsive. He said the officers remained seated in their cruiser, and when told he had been attacked by a group of men, one of them “looked over his shoulder and said ‘They’re not there now. We’re not going to catch them.’”
Solis said the officers “scribbled something from my license” in a note pad and then prepared to leave, asking him, “You good to go?” The victim requested an ambulance and that the officers write up his complaint about the incident.
“For statistical reasons, I want Bloomberg to know that faggots are getting the shit kicked out of them in Chelsea,” Solis recalled telling the officers.
Their response, he said, was, “Ah, Bloomberg doesn’t care.”
When an emergency medical vehicle arrived shortly afterward, one of the PSA officers pointed to it and said to Solis, “See that—there’s your ambulance. They’ll take care of you.”
And the officers drove off.
Solis was treated for a broken wrist and bruises at Cabrini Medical Center before being released.
The following day, Solis’ mother, a retired NYPD officer, phoned PSA 4 to get the complaint number on her son’s case, only to find that none existed. No record of the incident had ever filed. After four days passed without any sign of a report, Solis’ mother called the NYPD Internal Affairs office to complain. Within hours, officers from the 90th precinct in Williamsburg arrived at Solis’ home to take a report. The report was then transferred to the 10th precinct in Chelsea, since that is where the crime had been committed.
Solis was contacted by “a sergeant, a desk captain, and a detective,” all in the space of an hour.
“In short, basically what happened was my case got blown off by the PSAs,” Solis said. “Quinn’s office said they saw notes in the officer’s book about what happened that night, but it never got processed.”
The officers in question have been issued “command discipline” for their inaction, according to both Quinn and Solis, who said he does not intend to file a formal complaint.
Beyond the inadequacy of the police response, this incident also points up the simmering tensions between neighborhood youth and patrons of the Eagle and other gay men in the area. Several nights later, one gay man at the Eagle, who asked not to be identified, noted that men who leave the establishment can often be spied nearby, in dimly-lit, tree-lined stretches, engaged in sexual behavior.
“There might be some perception of the gay men as sexual predators,” said Solis, when asked about the comment from the Eagle patron.
The unnamed man was more direct.
“It’s the new blowjob alley,” the source said, referring to the name some people had dubbed an area surrounding the Eagle’s old location on 22nd Street, where outdoor cruising and hook-ups were said to be common.
On a calm Tuesday evening at 9 p.m., around the same time that Solis was attacked, the block was still. At the northeast corner of 28th and Ninth, at the location where Solis entered the emergency medical vehicle the night of the attack, a police cruiser idled with two officers inside. About a third of the way up the block on 28th, going east from Ninth Avenue, a car was parked at the curb. Inside the car—a small, slightly battered four-door sedan, with its headlights dimly beaming—a man who looked to be in his late 30s leaned back in the driver’s seat. His shirt was pulled up to his neck, exposing his bare chest. From the passenger seat, a younger man, wearing a baseball cap and a sleeveless T-shirt leaned over the driver, licking his right nipple while manually jerking the man’s fully exposed penis up and down.
This may have been the sort of occurrence to which Solis and the anonymous man at the Eagle referred in describing the surrounding night scene. Meanwhile, police say they are investigating the attacks.