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by Jim Larkin
GENESEE COUNTY-It was the repeated use of the word faggot that made Dave Garcia of Swartz Creek decide he had had enough.
So he – all 5-foot, 8-inches and 150 pounds of him – told the large man in the Columbiaville bar last fall to knock off referring to him and his group of friends as such. He got a black eye and sore jaw after the man pulled him off the ground by his neck and landed at least two punches. Still, it was Garcia and his group of friends – all but one gay – who were kicked out of the bar.
“The guy who kicked us out told us ‘your kind shouldn’t be here,'” Garcia said.
Garcia didn’t report the hate crime to police, although he did report it later to the Triangle Foundation.
“The last thing I wanted is some hick cop – and maybe it’s wrong for me to think that way – coming out and getting into it with me,” Garcia, 33, said, while referencing Columbiaville, with a population less than 1,000 in rural Lapeer County, just east of the Genesee County border.
But a panel of Flint, Genesee County and state officials on March 11 encouraged residents to do just that – report hate crimes to local police – at the Flint/Genesee Hate Crime Response Task Force Community Forum in downtown Flint. And they encouraged community members to combat hate by becoming a Flint/Genesee Hate Crime Response Task Force member.
“You can’t uncover if you’re not involved,” said Tina Fielder-Gibson, administrative assistant with the Genesee County Sheriff Department and a task force member, one of five panelists who discussed hate crimes.
“People do not report the crime because they are either afraid, ashamed or feel threatened,” Fielder-Gibson continued. But “if you don’t contact your police agency (to report a hate crime) – we don’t have a crystal ball on our desks” to address it.
Panelists – who also included Flint City acting Police Chief Gary Hagler, Sonya McLaurin from the Flint City attorney’s victim assistance program and Keesha Garrett and John Golaszewski with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights – stressed the importance of reporting hate crimes so such attitudes can be rooted out of the community.
“Articulate clearly that you think it’s a hate crime and why you think that,” Hagler said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that in 2006, the most recent year such statistics were available, there were 63 hate crime incidents in Genesee County, including three because of sexual orientation.
But Fielder-Gibson said hate crimes are grossly underreported and said there are many “hidden victims.”
Melissa Pope, director of victim services for the Triangle Foundation, said that is especially true in Genesee County. Pope was not at the community forum but said she senses a feeling of distrust with police by gay residents in the county.
“There’s a feeling they’re not going to be responded to and how they’re going to be treated by police,” Pope said.
Terri Sue Dinsmore, vice president of Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays of Genesee County, agreed with Pope’s assessment. Dinsmore, who handed out information packets on PFLAG to the panelists at the hate crime forum, said she has difficulty reconciling police running sting operations at area rest stops – such as Clayton Township Police Department has done numerous times at the I-69 rest area west of Swartz Creek – and also urging gay residents to report hate crimes.
“If you have police doing sting operations to catch gay people, why are gay people then going to go to police to report hate crimes?” Dinsmore questioned.
But reporting such hate crimes is important, Pope emphasized. Even though state and federal laws do not recognize sexual orientation as a bias for a hate crime – the city of Flint, however, does in its enhanced hate crimes ordinance – it is important to document such incidents so a case can be made to legislators for including sexual orientation in hate crime laws, Pope said.
Even though the Flint/Genesee Hate Crime Response Task Force has been around since 1993 and continues to meet monthly to, among other things, raise awareness and offer support to hate crime victims, many in the Genesee County gay community were not aware it exists. Garcia didn’t. Neither did Dinsmore or Frank Burger, an openly gay Carman-Ainsworth School District teacher who founded a Gay-Straight Alliance there.
And the leadership of the task force is in flux. It is overseen by the city of Flint’s Human Relations Commission, which has not had an executive director since Cleora Magee vacated the post last December, and the task force itself also has a new chairman in Edward Bullard. Its membership has dwindled to just 12 people.
Still, there is a need for it even if statistics say otherwise, notes Garcia, a former community services director for the Swartz Creek School District.
“I continue to get e-mails from kids who have problems in schools. It all starts with the jokes and the pushing and shoving and if it isn’t stopped by someone it continues to happen and escalates,” Garcia said. “For hate crimes, it all starts with gay jokes that aren’t challenged.
“People think that after Matthew Shepherd that everything has stopped. But it hasn’t. It’s just crazy.”
Garcia has the proof – a photo of himself that he still keeps which shows his blackened eye shut and the side of his face swollen.
“When I tell the story to my friends in Ann Arbor, they said, ‘Why were you out in Columbiaville,’ like there are areas you shouldn’t go into because you’re gay,” Garcia said. “You shouldn’t have to fear whether you go to certain places just because you’re gay.”
Want to join?
The Flint/Genesee Hate Crime Response Task Force
Goals: To raise awareness, offer support to victims, restore a sense of community when acts of violence have occurred, participate in community activities that promote harmony, counteract any acts of hate and violence and encourage organizations to engage speakers from the task force.
Meets at 10 a.m. the second Tuesday of every month in the Resource Center, 1401 S. Grand Traverse, Flint.
Hate crime statistics
A bias breakdown for the incidents of hate crime reported to the FBI in 2006 in Genesee County:
Community Race Religion Sexual orientation Ethnicity Disability
Burton 2 0 0 0 0
Clio 1 0 2 0 0
Flint 13 2 1 2 0
Flint Twp. 0 0 0 1 0
Flushing Twp. 1 1 0 0 0
Genesee Twp. 26 0 0 0 0
Grand Blanc 1 1 0 0 0
Grand Blanc Twp. 5 1 0 0 0
Mt. Morris Twp. 7 0 0 0 0
Mundy Twp. 1 0 0 0 0
Totals: 57 5 3 3 0
Source: FBI Web site http://www.fbi.gov