Rob B Taylor, 25, appears to be the latest victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime in Seattle. Yesterday, he told The Stranger he was walking past a group of four young African American men on 5th Avenue South and Brandon Street in Georgetown Sunday evening when one of them said, "Hey, you look like a faggot." Taylor replied, "Thank you," and kept walking. "Hey, faggot!" Taylor heard again before something—he thinks it was a boot—hit his face, slicing his upper lip.
The pictures Taylor circulated on Facebook are grisly. They show a bloodied Taylor before and after he received six stitches through his torn lip.
As Ansel noted last week, reports from the first part of 2014 indicate an uptick in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in Seattle, but far from all hate crimes get reported to police. (We still don't have data on the second half of the year.) Many in the LGBTQ community say hate crimes are a growing problem in the city, and politicians are just beginning to respond.
"I think that it's very depressing that this is happening anywhere in the world, but it is extra depressing that it is happening here, in a city that prides itself on being so liberal and open," Taylor told The Stranger.
Now, Mayor Ed Murray says he's in the process of putting together a task force from his office to address hate crimes by gathering "responses" from the LGBTQ community. "We'll dedicate staff to that," the mayor told The Stranger this afternoon.
"Personally, [Taylor's story is] disturbing, as someone who helped write a hate crimes law that covers sexual orientation," Murray also said. "The police chief has informed me of actions she's going to make to have this looked at closer. The question I'll have for the chief after this investigation is, 'When we investigate biased crime, what's the state of the training and resources we have in that department?'"
Taylor filed a police report on Monday, but wrote on Facebook that the Seattle police department received it with an irritated tone. Taylor told The Stranger that SPD has not contacted him since. He said police were also not helpful when he was attacked in a park in West Seattle when he was 15 years old.
"The bias-crimes section just received the case today and will [be] reviewing the report and contacting the victim to gather additional information about the case," Detective Drew Fowler, SPD spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail. "We’re also asking anyone who might’ve seen or knows anything about the incident to contact police." In response to Taylor's comment that police seemed "irritated" when he filed his report, Fowler responded, "If an officer has been unprofessional or acted inappropriately we encourage anyone to contact the Office of Professional Accountability."
Earlier this month, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant hosted a public forum on hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. Many spoke about an atmosphere of "fear and intimidation."
In response to the growing concern, Sawant has suggested funding an LGBTQ homeless youth shelter through a "people's budget." Murray said he wants a more diverse police force, something Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, has characterized as an inadequate response.
"The fact that [Taylor's assault] didn't happen in Capitol Hill doesn't change the fact that this continues to be an ongoing problem and we're going to see more of it," Askini, the Gender Justice League director, said. She added that she'd like to see non-police crisis response teams provide support for hate crime victims, and supports the idea of a task force to come up with more community-based solutions. The SPD, meanwhile, has charged an LGBTQ liaison with training businesses and organizations to create "safe" spaces for LGBTQ people starting in April.
But Taylor added that he now feels less safe in Capitol Hill specifically, too. "I've lived here for 15 years," he said. "I came out of the closet when I was 13 years old. I've spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill, and in high school we could walk around, it was a safe neighborhood. Nowadays it's not like that at all."
UPDATE: Sergeant Sean Whitcomb from the SPD says that the department's homicide commander, who oversees the department's bias-crimes detective, has reached out to Taylor. He added that another detective from violent crimes will be interviewing Taylor tonight. "We would always prefer that people reporting violent crime are satisfied with the preliminary investigation. In this case, it is going to be looked at very extensively," Whitcomb said.
Viet Shelton, the mayor's communications director, clarified that the task force the mayor mentioned has been in the works in response to public safety issues over the last few weeks, not just this one incident alone.