The recent murder of a 26-year-old man, shot between the eyes during a street robbery which netted the killers only his leather jacket, has raised concern about what some local activists say is increased violence against homosexuals in the Sunset Junction area of Silver Lake.
Police said, however, that the killing--although unusually brutal--did not appear to have anti-homosexual overtones. Moreover, they say there does not appear to be a surge in "gay bashing" in the Junction, the area around the intersection of Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards that contains five popular gay bars.
Nevertheless, the Feb. 28 shooting of Mario Martinez minutes after he left one of those bars has prompted strong reaction in the large gay community in Silver Lake. That has included a recent protest rally at the Junction, the formation of a neighborhood anti-crime organization and political pressure on Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo. As a result, Woo has scheduled a meeting April 6 between local gay groups and Capt. Noel Cunningham, commander of the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division.
"I think this is a major concern," Woo told a community forum last week. That gathering was designed for area residents to meet representatives of various city services, but it was overwhelmed in its first half with angry questions from the audience about the murder and what some said is an anti-homosexual bias among police.
At that meeting was Ron Edwards, who lives and works in the Junction and who is helping to found a new group called the Silver Lake Neighborhood Alliance, which he said is dedicated to increasing security in the area for homosexuals and heterosexuals.
"There is a lot of anger and we want to vent it in the right direction," said Edwards, who is an advertising executive for On the Go, a gay-oriented magazine. The group's first goal is to distribute police whistles among residents and to instruct them to sound the whistles if they are in trouble.
Some police officers, however, said they fear that hearing a whistle could make a robber panic and cause him to hurt a victim even if that was not the original intention.
Edwards and some other area residents said there has been an increase in the past year in beatings and muggings of gay men. Yet other gay activists and area businessmen say that violence has not increased, just fear of it, especially because of hostility toward gays raised by the AIDS epidemic. However, all appear to agree that Martinez's murder roiled emotions more than any previous assault.
Edwards said he himself was hit on the head with a stick, knocked to the ground and kicked by a group of teen-age boys who called him a "faggot" in a neighborhood incident about a year ago. He said he did not call police and thinks that many other such assaults are not reported to police either because of what the victims perceive as an anti-homosexual bias by authorities or a feeling that police response is too slow.
"I'm not saying the police are dumb of the situation. We would just like a little quicker response to calls," Edwards said.
Cunningham said he is pleased to meet with gay activists and to assist them in forming Neighborhood Watch groups and said he will assign an extra patrol car to the area for one week beginning Tuesday. But the commander said that reaction to the murder may have gotten out of hand.
"They have this hysteria going within their own subculture that they are being attacked by police, by hoodlums, by society. It's a siege mentality. There is no pattern of attacks on gays. We haven't seen any pattern of it as something the gay community should be alarmed about," Cunningham said, adding that he would monitor the situation. He conceded that some alleged assaults in the Junction may be unreported to police but stressed that it is true of all types of crimes in Los Angeles.
No More Security Guards
Cunningham said the Junction is probably known among criminals as a spot to find victims walking on the street late at night who are likely to have some cash in their pockets. Bar patrons this week complained that the clubs used to hire security guards to patrol the area but stopped a few months ago.
Martinez and his friend Steve Allen left the Detour, a gay bar on Manzanita Street, at closing time and walked to their car around the corner on Gateway Avenue, according to Allen and detectives. Their assailants, two men in their late teens or early 20s and each carrying a handgun, approached on foot from the other direction and so may not have seen the victims leave the bar, police said.