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As Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin faces up to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of four felonies for a fight he was involved in, a groundswell of support for the 42-year-old is appearing on social media and there is little evidence of sympathy for the two gay men who accused him of attacking them in a Chelsea restaurant last year.
“I think that what really should have happened here is these guys shouldn’t have pressed charges,” Robb Stone, an artist who lives in Chicago, told Gay City News. “If I was a sloppy drunk queen who got in a fight with my boyfriend and got our asses kicked, I wouldn’t press charges.”
On May 27, Stone posted a picture of Jonathan Snipes, 33, and Ethan York-Adams, 26, on his Facebook page with accompanying text that described the couple, who have since ended their relationship, as “a pair of Privileged assholes.”
The two “made a huge scene, and then picked a fight with another patron nearby — physically attacking him with one of our man-purses. And when the man (who is also gay, and a Person of Color) kicked our asses, we cried foul and accused him of Gay-Bashing,” Stone wrote.
Chicago artist Robb Stone’s Facebook post about the case. | FACEBOOK.COM
By June 7, the post had 569 shares and 769 likes on Facebook. Stone described the reaction as “low-key viral” for the social media platform. A handful of the 105 comments on the post defended or expressed support for Snipes and York-Adams.
On May 5, 2015, Snipes and York-Adams, who both testified they were drunk that night, first fought with each other in Dallas BBQ at Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street. In his trial testimony, Snipes said he believed that someone called him a “faggot,” though he could not say who, and he struck El-Amin with his purse, which held his keys, a sunglasses case, a cellphone charger, and his résumé.
El-Amin leapt from his table and pushed Snipes to the floor. The two men fought, were separated, and fought again. Then, as Snipes and York-Adams stood with their backs to him, El-Amin, who said he was acting in self-defense throughout the incident, struck York-Adams with a wooden chair.
Neither Snipes nor York-Adams had health insurance, and they both refused medical attention that night. They saw doctors days later, after being told that New York pays for healthcare for crime victims.
Snipes spoke to some press on May 6 without disclosing that he began the fight. The incident was quickly characterized as a hate crime by the media. Some local politicians, including City Councilmember Corey Johnson and State Senator Brad Hoylman, who are both gay and represent Chelsea, protested outside the restaurant, also calling the fight a hate crime.
El-Amin surrendered to police in June of 2015. He was indicted on five felony charges, none charged as hate crimes. On May 25, a Manhattan jury found El-Amin guilty on four of the five, acquitting him on a single count of second-degree assault against Snipes.
Waddie Grant, who blogs at glistsociety.com, asserted last year that race played a role in the response by the LGBT community. El-Amin is African-American and Snipes and York-Adams are white. More recently, a blogger writing as “Son of Baldwin” on medium.com made the same point.
Stone, who is white, shares that view.
“We live in a society in which we are willing to believe that black and brown people are inherently violent and to me that’s what this case is all about,” he said. “If Mr. El-Amin was a white man would this case have played out the same way, would it have gone this far?”
A screen grab from video that circulated immediately after the Dallas BBQ incident last May showing Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin bringing a chair down over Ethan York-Adams’ head. | ISAAM SHAREF VIA YOUTUBE.COM
Dr. H. Sharif “Herukhuti” Williams, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Goddard College, compared the El-Amin case to the one brought against Brock Turner, a white Stanford student, who was convicted this year of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and sentenced to just six months in jail.
“Mr. El-Amin is facing a decade or more in prison,” Williams said. “The young man who raped the woman in California is getting six months… We exist in a society in which jail is too harsh for certain people, but not others. If jail is too harsh for certain people, it’s too harsh for all people.”
William Dobbs, a gay civil libertarian, has critiqued the LGBT community’s reliance on law enforcement and its pursuit of hate crime laws as misguided. While the community’s original intent in pressing for these goals was to get police and prosecutors to protect LGBT people, the community is now complicit in a system that arrests, prosecutes, and incarcerates too many people, who are overwhelmingly people of color, he argued.
“One way or another the words hate crime have inspired and caused injustice,” Dobbs said. “This Dallas BBQ incident is a classic example… The cries of hate crime by politicians inflamed this incident and paved the way for [Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance] to bring five felony charges in what is really just an ugly bar fight.”
The criminal justice system is inherently unfair to broad classes of people, including LGBT people sometimes, activists say, and relying on it can create injustice.
“To be black, working class, or poor in the criminal justice system means you are more than likely to be disserved by that system,” Williams said. “The state is not set up to protect you…regardless of where you sit in the courtroom.”
Snipes and York-Adams did not respond to requests for comment made via Facebook. Hoylman and Johnson did not respond to calls seeking comment.
El-Amin’s sentencing date is June 14.