Assault prompts formation of safe-streets group

It was just after midnight on July 6, and the man was walking toward LaRue’s Backdoor, a side bar located inside O Henry’s, Asheville’s (and the state’s) oldest gay bar.

According to the police report, he was approached by two black males in their mid-20s who, after asking him where he was going, began punching and kicking him as they tried to rob him.

As the man (whose name has been blacked out in police records) fell down, he drew a pocket knife, hoping to fend off his attackers and escape by scaling a chainlink fence. But they pulled him down and kept on kicking him, shouting anti-gay slurs.

He fought back with his pocket knife, later estimating that he may have stabbed one of the attackers three times. But after taking his wallet and shoes, the two men fled, according to the report. One left on a dark scooter; the injured man got into “a silver full-size car with a white female driver and a black male passenger.”

The victim suffered only minor injuries, and the Asheville Police Department is still investigating the case. But as word spread around town, almost 100 people—members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and others concerned about violence—met at the Firestorm Café on Commerce Street.

Packed into the small space, they discussed how to respond to such hate-motivated attacks, and Safe Streets Asheville was born.

Various initiatives are in the works, co-organizer Louise Newton reports, including producing a flier with safety tips, raising funds for bigger projects, and setting up a central online information resource. There’s also been talk of setting up a service people could call to avoid having to walk alone through downtown at night.

Meanwhile, the group has designated a liaison to promote better relations with the police.

“We’re still looking for a regular meeting place, and we’ve got smaller work groups meeting on a lot of these topics,” says Newton. “We hope to keep the momentum going. We had a really great first meeting, but we hope to see some new faces and have this really be a multilocal movement.”

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