Los Angeles Police Department officials faced a hostile audience Monday night during a meeting to discuss violence against gays in Silver Lake.
The meeting was set up by City Councilman Michael Woo to address concerns about "gay bashing" in the wake of the Feb. 28 robbery-murder of a man after he left a local gay bar.
However, many of the 150 people at the meeting appeared to be as angry about what they allege to be an anti-gay attitude among police as they were about the murder.
"There is a long, long record of homophobia in the LAPD," said John O'Brien, a gay activist who ran unsuccessfully last year for the state Assembly in the 46th District.
He and others said that claim is proved by the fact that none of the nearly 7,000 members of the police force feels comfortable enough to be openly gay. They estimate that there are several hundred homosexual officers on the force.
Hiring Openly Gay Officers
Several speakers called for the hiring of openly gay police officers who would be assigned to patrol neighborhoods such as Silver Lake that have a large homosexual population.
The five police officials at the meeting, including the commanders of the Rampart and Northeast Divisions, stressed that they have no control over hiring. They did, however, pledge to work with gay activists and Woo's office in setting up civilian Neighborhood Watch groups.
Capt. Bayan Lewis, Rampart commander, and Capt. Noel Cunningham, Northeast commander, said they have seen no pattern of attacks on homosexuals in Silver Lake. Their statements elicited roars of angry protest from the audience in the parish hall of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church.
Many in the audience said gays don't report assaults because they feel they will receive little or poor police response. Some said police officers have insulted them and called them derogatory names.
Some area residents said teen-age gang members think the Sunset Junction area, with its five gay bars, is a good place for attacks on gays. For example, they said, a gang beat up three workers and volunteers last weekend outside the Sunset Boulevard warehouse of Necessities of Life, a food bank for AIDS victims. The victims complained that it took police an hour to respond to the calls for aid.
Cunningham on Tuesday said the patrol car was delayed because the officers had to help injured victims in an auto accident on Glendale Boulevard. However, he announced that a 16-year-old neighborhood boy was arrested Tuesday in the assault at the food bank and that three other boys were being investigated.
Cunningham said the food bank would be given extra attention in the additional overtime patrols he intends to assign to the Silver Lake area on weekends for the next few months.
Meanwhile, the food bank hired a private security guard and cut out its night hours, according to volunteer Christopher Flynn. A group of teen-age Guardian Angels, the controversial anti-crime organization, helped patrol the center this week.
At Monday's meeting, Woo promised to help organize a self-defense training course for gays, similar to one in San Francisco. He and his staff distributed about 150 whistles and urged people to sound them if they are in trouble on the street.
The whistle campaign was begun by Silver Lake Neighborhood Alliance, a residents' group formed in response to the Feb. 28 shooting of Mario Martinez. A robber shot Martinez, 26, between the eyes and took his leather jacket in a confrontation on Gateway Avenue.
After the meeting, Woo's chief deputy, Larry Kaplan, said he hoped the meeting gave people a chance to vent their anger. "Any dialogue serves a purpose. It may not give people as complete results as they want. But no meeting would have served no purpose."