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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
When is a hate crime not a hate crime?
Section One
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When is a hate crime not a hate crime?

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Tony P., a 28-year-old Gay man, walked into Sully's Lounge on Queen Anne Avenue N. at about 9:45 p.m. on Sunday night, December 14. By the time he left just after midnight, he had two black eyes, a bloody nose, and a cut lip.

Tony asked not to be identified by his full name because the incident left him traumatized and in fear for his safety. Sully's Lounge told SGN that 'we're aware of the incident and we're working out the details,' but apart from that they declined to comment.

Tony went to Sully's, he later told SGN, to meet several women friends. One of them introduced him as her 'Gay friend' when he arrived.

According to Tony, the bartender was flirting with his women friends and pouring them free shots.

'He just put glasses in front of everybody and started pouring,' Tony recalled. One of the women later told police she had consumed four shots and one and a half beers during the evening.

Tony told the police officers who arrived on the scene later that the bartender said he would 'pour [Tony] shots because his friends were hot and he was letting them drink for free.'

While the bartender poured Tony drinks, he also made disparaging remarks about his sexual orientation, referring to him as a 'faggot' when talking to other customers.

'I also remember eating food,' Tony told SGN. 'My friend ordered chicken wings. So I'm eating the food, and the bartender comes and grabs it, and throws it away.'

Things went even further downhill from there. Eventually, Tony says, the bartender hit him.

'I don't know how many times,' Tony told SGN. 'I was in shock. But he must have hit me more than once.'

He came away from the encounter bloody and bruised. Tony then stumbled down the street and found himself in front of Trader Joe's market, where an employee called police.

According to the police report, officers arrived on the scene and found that Tony's 'face and shirt were covered in blood.' After taking Tony's testimony and offering to get him to a hospital (he declined), the officers then went to Sully's to question the bartender, but found the bar had closed early.

'In front of the front door, officer spotted multiple droplets of what appeared to be blood,' the police report reads. 'The red substance stains were fresh and consistent with someone leaving the front door and walking in the direction where the victim was found.'

As horrific as the incident was, and even though the bartender made disparaging remarks about Tony's sexual orientation, police are not investigating it as a hate crime.

What is malicious harassment?
According to RCW 9A.36.080, the section of Washington state law that defines malicious harassment - the technical name for hate crimes - the offense must be based on the perpetrator's 'perception of the victim's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.'

'It's tricky,' Seattle Police spokesperson Detective Drew Fowler told SGN. 'It all depends on the suspect's motivation. To charge with malicious harassment you have to get into the suspect's head.'

In Tony's case, the issue seems clear enough. The bartender called him a 'faggot,' so he had obviously formed a negative perception of Tony's sexual orientation. But that by itself is not enough to establish malicious harassment.

According to the law, 'Words alone do not constitute malicious harassment unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat.'

Tony says he was offended by the bartender's remarks, and felt uncomfortable, but not that he felt threatened. In fact, he says he was 'shocked' by the assault. 'It really seemed like it was unprovoked,' he told SGN later.

In the police report, the officers note that Tony 'could not articulate the events triggering the assault. [Tony] did not remember if [the bartender] said anything prior to hitting him in regard to him being Gay.'

In other words, even though the bartender clearly expressed a negative view of Tony's sexual orientation, he did not make an explicit threat or say anything to link his alleged assault on Tony to Tony's sexual orientation. And that, Detective Fowler explained, makes the crime a simple assault and not malicious harassment.

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