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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Forum promotes safer social environment for LGBTQ community

In the wake of an attack on a student and his boyfriend near campus last month, UA and Tucson community members are exploring how to create safer social spaces and address hate crimes.

The attack in early March, in which two men were assaulted while leaving a gay bar on Fourth Avenue, prompted a number of sponsors to host a community forum Thursday on how to create a safer environment for members of the LGBTQ community.

One of the victims is a member of Pride Law, a student organization within the James E. Rogers College of Law. Pride Law, the Office of LGBTQ Student Affairs, the Nightlife Safety Project and Wingspan hosted the forum.

Community members were able to direct questions to a panel of representatives from the Pima County Attorney’s Office, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, the Tucson Police Department, Wingspan and IBT’s, where the attack took place.

“Whenever incidents of violence occur in the LGBT community, it has a ripple effect – it has an impact on LGBT people who were not directly affected by the violence,” said Casey Chimneystar Condit, the programs manager of Wingspan. “When incidents like that occur it’s important to come together to talk about ways to come together or find solutions and ensure that people feel like they are living in a community where their rights are being respected and they have routes to safety.”

Although forum organizers were asked to focus more on creating a safer environment, rather than the incident that prompted the discussion, panelists did address how the incident was handled by law enforcement. A police report wasn’t filed because the officer who responded told the victim that he did not have enough evidence for an arrest, said Capt. Jim Webb, head of TPD’s downtown division. That has been handled and dealt with, Webb added.

Valerie Berg, a detective for TPD, emphasized the importance of reporting hate crimes.
“We ask everybody to report these types of crime because that crime or that incident happened to you — you’re a victim — and we take that very seriously,” Berg said. “Without anybody reporting those types of incidents we’re not going to know what’s going on here in Tucson.”

Nationwide statistics are maintained by the FBI and the Bureau of Justice. According to the FBI, there are about 8,000 reported hate crimes a year. The Bureau of Justice, which collects data using victim surveys, found there are about 200,000 hate crimes each year.

“Just so you know, Tucson is very similar across the nation,” said Kent Burbank, the director of Victim Services for the Pima County Attorney’s Office. “There is a big discrepancy across the nation on this issue of reporting. So if law enforcement doesn’t report about it, it’s not going to hit the FBI. It’s a problem nationwide in terms of low reporting.”

Safe Streets AZ, a project of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, distributed business cards at the forum and encouraged attendees to report harassment. Safe Streets AZ tracks harassment on Google Maps.

The forum explored other issues, such as politicized violence and how TPD officers are trained to respond to it.

Humanity and sensitivity training are mandatory before becoming a police officer, Webb said. Two to three training sessions are also provided each year on various topics, he added.

The department has changed over the last few decades, said Webb, who first joined the force 28 years ago. There are openly gay officers and negative comments about the gay community are no longer a problem, he said.

Michael Kramkowski, the owner of IBT’s, agreed that law enforcement’s relationship with the LGBTQ community has improved over time.

“It’s a very different world now, especially with a lot of the younger officers. They are more interactive, more open-minded now, and understand the community more now than they ever have in the past,” Kramkowski said. “I think that is a part that is changing with them, maybe not fast enough with some officers, but especially with the majority of officers.”

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