Long Beach City Councilman Robert Garcia, pictured last year, said: "These… (Christina House / For the…)
Long Beach police are investigating three incidents in the last two weeks in which gay men were assaulted in or near the city's Broadway Corridor, a neighborhood known for its tight-knit gay and lesbian community.
The suspect in one case has been charged with a hate crime, but the other cases are still under investigation, said police spokesman Rico Fernandez.
"We don't believe any of these three are connected in any way," Fernandez said. "We just think it's a coincidence that three incidents happened relatively close to each other."
The first incident was reported just before 6 p.m. July 24 near the Falcon, a popular gay bar on Broadway.
Eric Avila, who moved to Long Beach earlier this year, his friend Martin Daniel Sanchez and three others had met up in town to spend the day together. They hung out at the Falcon for a while, then left to get some food at a taco shop down the street, Avila said.
Avila, who was walking ahead of the group, passed a man arguing with a woman on the sidewalk. The man stopped long enough to use a slur against Avila as he passed, he said.
"He was getting ready to get aggressive," Avila said. "I could see it in his body language."
The man then walked up to Sanchez and asked if he is gay. When Sanchez said yes, the man punched him in the face, knocking out a tooth and cracking several other teeth as Sanchez fell hard on the sidewalk.
"I saw the blood splatter," Avila said.
The man ran away, but Avila and another friend chased him several blocks until police arrived, he said.
The suspect, Jorge Jhovanoy Ibarrias, 21, was arrested and charged with felony battery in addition to a hate crime. He has pleaded not guilty, authorities said.
Three days later, near East 4th Street and Orange Avenue, another man was beaten and called slurs. That case is being investigated as a battery and a possible hate incident, though not a hate crime, Fernandez said. The difference, he said, is that police do not believe that hatred specifically against gays was the initial motivation.
Four days after the second attack, on Sundayabout 1:30 a.m., several men walking on Broadway, two blocks from the site of the initial incident, were approached by another group that used slurs against them, police said. A fight broke out before the groups separated. But the group that made the insults returned shortly afterward with several other people and assaulted three of the men who had been walking down the street, police said.
That incident is still under investigation, and it's not clear whether a hate crime or hate incident would be among the charges if the suspects are arrested, Fernandez said.
He said police are beefing up patrols in the neighborhood.
"We do have an obligation to protect everybody's rights and make sure everybody has the freedom to go about their business and be whoever they want to be," he said.
On Wednesday, in and around the Broadway Corridor, people spoke of a welcoming community where rainbow flags fly from the roofs of many businesses and one of the largest gay pride parades in the nation makes its way down the street every spring.
At the Falcon, patrons said they generally feel safe in the city, though a few talked of being taunted on the street when they leave gay bars.
Jason Young, 36, who works at the bar and has lived nearby for 13 years, said he believed that the attacks did not reflect an out-of-control situation.
"I hope that the community responds," he said. "That we just come together.... I love this city. I've never felt more welcome."
Avila said through Facebook and other outlets that he had tried to make people aware of the attack on his friend and to raise funds for Sanchez's ongoing medical care. On Tuesday, he spoke to the Long Beach City Council about the beating.
"I don't want our community to feel terrorized," he told them.
In response to the reports, Long Beach City Councilman Robert Garcia and the advocacy group the Center called for a unity gathering Thursday near the site of the incidents.
"These incidents have no place in our city," he said.