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|Gay couple attacked in Piedmont Park|
|Written by Dyana Bagby|
|Friday, 09 July 2010 00:00|
Atlanta Police Department Officer Patricia Powell, the recently appointed LGBT liaison, said she is considering offering a safety course to gay Midtown residents after a gay couple was robbed at gunpoint in Piedmont Park.
“I don’t know if gay people are being targeted,” Powell said Tuesday.
But she noted the July 2 armed robbery of Rev. Joshua Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church and his partner, as well as reports of anti-gay epithets used during a series of fights and disturbances by young people at the June 3 Screen on the Green in the park.
Another man was also robbed of $10 at gunpoint on July 2 at Linden Lane and Central Park Place by the same group of young men, according to APD reports. Six black males ages 13 through 19 were arrested shortly after the July 2 robberies.
Whether or not the incident against Noblitt and his partner can be classified as a hate crime will be up to the prosecutor, said Carlos Campos, APD public affairs manager.
While Georgia does not have a state hate crimes law, the APD is one of the agencies in the state that tracks what it deems as hate crimes.
“They all face charges of felony armed robbery,” Campos said.
Those charged in the July 2 armed robberies are Sam Johnson, 17; Benjamin Johnson, 16; and Daequan Lewis, 15, who are all listed as living at the same residence in Stone Mountain. Also charged is Jarvis Johnson, 19, of Parkway Drive in Atlanta. Sam Johnson was identified by APD as the gunman. Police are not releasing the names of the two juveniles.
The juveniles were sent to the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center. Those charged as adults were denied bond on a first hearing shortly after being arrested and remained in Fulton County jail at press time.
Gays considered easy targets?
Noblitt said he and his partner were picnicking in the park near 10th Street on the evening of July 2 when they were approached by three young black youths and one of them asked if they were gay.
“Are y’all gay … we should whoop your ass for that,” Noblitt told police the youth said, according to an APD report.
The three youths walked off and returned later with a stick and got into a fight with Noblitt and his partner. During the fight, Noblitt called police from his cell phone.
When Noblitt called 911 to report he and his partner were being attacked, one of the three young men allegedly called someone and between eight to 10 others showed up quickly on bicycles and surrounded the two men.
“They came out of nowhere,” Noblitt said.
One of the men who rode up on his bike had a handgun. He put the gun to Noblitt’s temple, demanding money, Noblitt said.
“I told him everything you want is on the blanket,” Noblitt said.
The assailants allegedly took Noblitt’s wallet, phone, keys and his partner’s phone and ran off.
An Atlanta Police Department officer who was working at the Charles Allen entrance of the park setting up for the Peachtree Road Race responded quickly to the scene.
“I do want to say the Atlanta Police Department officers were incredible — they were really respectful and really responsive,” Noblitt said.
Noblitt thinks the crime may be gang related, but added that perhaps the assailants figured gay people in the park would be easier to victimize.
“There are so many guys in the park. Maybe they think gay folks are easy targets,” he said.
Campos and Powell said they were unsure if the suspects were part of a known gang, but when three or more people commit a crime together that is considered gang activity.
Powell is serving as the APD’s second LGBT liaison. Officer Dani Lee Harris is currently on medical leave. Harris has also filed a complaint with APD’s Office of Professional Standards against a civilian employee of the department.
Powell said she spoke with Noblitt to answer his questions and has reached out to his partner, who lives in Ohio. She said she would follow the case through the judicial system and keep them informed.
She also said she would meet with the police commander for Zone 5, which includes Midtown and Piedmont Park, to see what can be done in the park to ensure the safety of all visitors.
“What the [LGBT] community can do is be more aware of their surroundings and I’m thinking of doing a safety class for the community,” Powell said in a conference call with Campos.
“It doesn’t make me feel good when gay people are attacked. But I don’t feel good when anyone is attacked,” Powell said.
Noblitt, who is social justice minister at Saint Mark, said when the gun was held to his head, he thought of his niece and newborn nephew, his work at his church and “this cannot be the way this goes down.”
The fact one of the suspects is only 13 is “heartbreaking,” added Noblitt, who works with young people in the criminal justice system as part of his ministry.
“I’m more sad than angry,” he said. “There’s a story that leads up to a choice being made … and I wonder what the story is for all of them.”
He added he plans to hold another picnic soon in the same spot he was robbed.
“Piedmont Park is an important place to me,” he said. “I’d like to plan a picnic in that same spot and create new memories."
Top photo: Rev. Joshua Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church said it was ‘heartbreaking’ to learn one of suspects who allegedly robbed him July 2 is only 13 years old. (courtesy Noblitt)
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