We don't have a lot to celebrate in the "Venice of the Americas" these days... We still have PTSD from Amendment 2, our local celebrity good guy, Sheriff's Officer Jonathan Bleweiss was arrested for allegedly fondling male illegal immigrants during arrests (more on that below) and hate crimes seem to be increasing - but not officially.
New updates on this subject are being posted on this blog here.
Let's rewind to April 6th, 2009 where Craig Cohen, a nice mild-mannered gay man who loved animals was walking home alone from his dinner at a restaurant in Oakland Park. Suddenly, he was viciously attacked by 3 straight men and left for dead. The perpetrators took nothing except his cell-phone (presumably so that Cohen could not call for help). Cohen, who was still alive after having his head stomped into the pavement multiple times, was left with his money, wallet and watch still on his person. Cohen died from the attack months later on October 7th.
Just moments after the 3 men attacked Cohen, they attacked another gay man, David Villanova, in much the same manner outside of a gay bar - fracturing his skull in the process. This time, they decided to rob him as well. The two victims had a lot in common in that they were both happy, attractive, well-dressed contributing members of society. The only differences being a slight difference in age and that Villanova is still alive and recovering from his injuries.
The 3 attackers (Chad Olah, Victor Gonzales, and Pargu Leandro) should be charged with Hate Crimes, right? Right... But it's not shaping up that way.
Why? Because of course, there are politics to think about...
Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti (a Republican) and Rick Wierzbicki (an outspoken gay Democrat who leads the BSO's Hate Crimes Task Force) have been busy attending awards dinners with the Dolphin Democrats (a Gay Democratic group of which I am also a member) and the candle-light vigils for the victims. Both Lamberti and Wierzbicki have expressed sympathy for the victims and a commitment to put an end to Hate Crimes in Broward County. But according to the press release that BSO released pertaining to the crimes, the attackers might not even be charged with murder, let alone a hate crime...
So why would it be so difficult to charge these 3 men with a hate crime, let alone murder?
It turns out that the answers are nothing more than deflection, denial and political expediency.
A contact member of the Dolphin Dems (who I've chosen to keep anonymous) told me, in defense of Lamberti, that at the recent awards gala, Lamberti intimated that he believed the attacks to be Hate Crimes as well but not proveably so. This contact also went on to tell me that it's up to the State's Attorney and that the Sheriff's office holds no responsibility in deciding whether or not a crime is a hate crime (which is flat-out false and would render Wierzbicki's position rather irrelevant if it were true). Aside from what is said behind closed doors at the pricey awards receptions, the general public can only go by what's contained in the BSO press releases - which, so far claim that the two gay victims were merely attacked because they were walking alone and not because they were gay.
However, it is true that the State's Attorney's office has a role to play in shaping how charges against an attacker are leveled. According to Adrianne Reesey (BSO's Community Involvement Specialist), there is the matter of "reasonable doubt" to consider. She explains that what might seem obvious (to myself and other members of the gay community) might not be exactly the magic bullet to convict. A killer can actually walk free if the various elements of a Hate Crime are not proven beyond a "reasonable doubt" if that is what the State is charging the defendants with.
In Fort Lauderdale, proving Hate Crimes can be an absolute mine-field considering recent news. As it turns out, according to a thus-far-anonymous contact, the first officer to respond to the scene of Cohen's attack was the now-defamed Jonathan Bleiweiss. Bleiweiss was charged (both in the media and by the Sheriff's office - but mostly by the Sun Sentinel) of all sorts of lewd conduct and illegal behavior on the job. It's the kind of case (read: witch-hunt) where newspapers go and interview crazy homeless people to ask them for their opinions on the matter just to increase the gossip-factor. Bleiweiss was the first gay cop to be honored as "Broward Sheriff's Officer of the Year" right before Lamberti won his election by a slim margin. It was only a matter of time before a catholic-run homeless shelter, the Sun-Sentinel and Lamberti himself would find this gay rockstar's weakness... Big Illegal Immigrant Cock on his donut break.
Bleiweiss can't possibly recieve a fair trial (for allegedly using his badge to coerce illegals to have sex with him) after Sheriff Lamberti joined the media frenzy (176 television reports within a month and just as many newspaper articles) by going on television to say that Bleiweiss is guilty, guilty, guilty. The Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post hammered the final nail in Bleiweiss' coffin by all-but-promising "victims visas" to any other illegal immigrants who might wish to come forward and make claims against Bleiweiss.
While Bleiwess sits in the main jail, awaiting his day in court, his tarnished legend might be just the kind of thing that a defense attorney for the anti-gay attackers would try to invoke to get a sympathetic pat on the back for his clients (two of whom happen to be hispanic).
Another factor is that one of the 3 attackers (Chad Olah) was not quite 18 years old at the time of the attack, and nobody seems to be able to tell me whether he may have done the most damage to Cohen and Villanova's skull.
One thing is certain - if Hate Crimes continue to happen and go un-punished in Fort Lauderdale, the gay community most certainly knows how to respond in kind. This is the kind of thing that people lose re-election over in South Florida. Pending Barack Obama's signing of the Mathew Shepard Act into law, the Broward Sheriff's Office may not have much input in future hate crimes and how they're dealt with unless they prove that they can cooperate with the legislation.
At the time of this post, no additional press releases have been released and further updates on this subject can be read here.