Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reporting of anti-gay hate crimes usually under reported, not made-up as happened in Montana

The story of Joseph Baken, a 22-year-old Billings, Mont. man who reported being a victim of a violent gay bashing then recanted a few days later, is an incredible twist to a widespread, complex crime that usually goes unreported rather than the other way around.

Just a couple of weeks prior to the media reports about Baken’s allegations that three men beat him up on Aug. 5 outside of a Montana nightclub, I learned that a gay Dallas man had been attacked and robbed by a group of men in the parking lot of a popular gay bar. Although pictures of his bruised face circulated on Facebook, he declined when I asked if he would consent to an interview. He never responded to a question about whether he reported the incident to the police so I’m assuming he didn’t as the alleged incident apparently went unnoticed by the local gay newspaper.

According to hate crime experts, that’s the way it usually goes with anti-gay hate crimes – undocumented because of embarrassment about being gay -- so I was surprised to learn that the injuries Baken received to his face actually occurred when he tried to do a backflip on a sidewalk during a celebration of his 22nd birthday and landed flat on his face.  It’s unclear how much alcohol Baken had imbibed when he attempted the acrobatic stunt, but I’m assuming that might also have been a factor in his decision to make a false police report.

Whatever the reasoning, the college student certainly didn’t do himself or the LGBT community any favors by fabricating a hate crime. He pleaded guilty in Missoula, Mont., Municipal Court to filing a false police report and received a 180-day suspended sentence and a $300 fine when a video of his failed stunt showed up at the police department and the local newspaper.

That no doubt was a moment of enlightenment that left a lot of people stunned and feeling like beating up the alleged victim for real.

Police said they decided to file a false reporting charge against Baken because of the “fear and anger” that erupted when he identified a business and gave descriptions of non-existent suspects.

The false allegation was a slap in the face to the Montana police officers who took the complaint seriously, the reporters who tried to raise awareness about a serious problem and the owner of the nightclub who suffered unfair negative publicity as a result of a lie by a gay patron who apparently was welcomed in the establishment. It no doubt also deeply discouraged all of the good people of Montana who spoke out against anti-hate crime when they heard about the alleged attack.

And now what’s even worse is that it likely will make it even more difficult for someone who actually suffers an anti-gay hate crime in Montana to come forward because of fear of not being believed.

That’s a shame because LGBT people are “far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by violent hate crime,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes and hate groups.  The law center’s study of FBI hate crime statistics indicates that LGBT people are 2.4 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime than Jews, 2.6 times more likely to be attacked than blacks, 4.4 times more likely than Muslims, 13.8 times more likely than Latinos and 41.5 times more likely than straight white people.

The false reporting of anti-gay hate crimes and other hate crimes involving different types of biases such as race and religion are not without precedent, but fortunately they appear to be infrequent considering how many hate crimes do get documented every year.  I found only a handful of incidents of false reports of anti-gay hate crimes in other areas of the country in 2012.

After dwelling on the subject for about a week, the only plausible reason I can come up with for people to make a false report about a hate crime would be that they enjoy the attention and drama of the moment.  But I bet Baken, who reportedly was a background player in a 2011 film about college life called “Judas Kiss,” is having a little trouble reconnecting with that feeling now.

So I guess the moral to the story here is that if you are a victim of a hate crime it needs to be reported. If you aren’t, don’t make one up. You might get a brief rush, but the hangover will undoubtedly last for a very long time. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Disgraced former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Craig cites tea room adventure as official duty

If you laughed at former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s excuse that his habit of sitting on toilets with a “wide stance” led to a vice squad officer mistaking him for a tea room queen five years ago, his latest defense could leave you hysterical.

It may well become a frequently-mentioned “LMAOROTF” remark on Facebook as this new development related to Craig’s arrest on solicitation of sex charges in an airport restroom in 2007 starts making the rounds. It seems the former three-term senator has filed legal papers claiming his visit to the bathroom -- where the police officer claimed the politician signaled for sex under a stall --  amounted to official Senate business.

Yes, you read that right.

Craig, the toe-tapping, shoe-nudging former ultra-conservative senator from Idaho who opposed LGBT equality, is being sued by the Federal Election Commission because he allegedly used $217,000 in campaign funds to pay his lawyers who represented him after his arrest in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport bathroom during a sex sting in 2007. The Washington, D.C. law firm of Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan scooped up $139,952 from Craig in connection with the senator’s legal woes, and the Minnesota law firm of Kelly & Jacobson earned another $77,032 for their work.

Craig wound up entering a guilty plea to disorderly conduct, then told his family, his colleagues and the rest of the nation he was innocent when the national media picked up on it. The disgraced senator soon announced his plans to resign, but then he decided to finish his term. Craig did not run for re-election in 2008.

The FEC reportedly later attempted to negotiate a reimbursement from Craig for the funds that the agency’s regulators claim he illegally spent on legal bills. When he refused, they filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in June, seeking repayment of the legal fees and the assessment of fines.

The FEC suit claimed Craig’s legal bills that resulted from his adventures in a men’s restroom had nothing to do with his campaign, but Craig responded that going to the bathroom while traveling between his home state and Washington, D.C., fell under his reimbursable official duties. He cited a Senate rule that provides for reimbursement of transportation, lodging, meals and several other items.

In an effort to get the complaint dismissed, Craig and his lawyers have also cited a case involving former U.S. Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona who used campaign money in 2006 for a legal defense. The congressman, who was openly gay, came under fire in connection with a Grand Canyon rafting trip he took with two former male pages.

The FEC ruled that Kolbe’s legal expenses were legitimate because it was an official visit arranged by the National Park Service, and therefore part of his duties as a member of the House of Representatives.

It’s clear that Craig, who now has an energy consulting business with his former chief of staff, has no shame. Rather than just paying the money back to avoid further embarrassment, he has decided to fight the FEC in an effort to hang on to that money.

The late-night television pundits are bound to love it.

Still, I can sympathize with Craig on one point. Given how everything turned out for him, it probably is hard to justify paying $217,000 for a legal defense against a misdemeanor charge that resulted in you pleading guilty and losing your job. It may well be the most expensive public lewdness case ever recorded.