Less than 17 percent of all anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in San Diego result in arrest, according to data obtained by NBC 7 Investigates.
The numbers reveal hate crimes against the gay, lesbian, transsexual, and non-binary community remains a haunting reality for many. Advocates say the lack of arrests and San Diego’s history of anti-gay violence has resulted in the reluctance for many victims to report the crimes.
“I think a lot of people are still reluctant to report hate crimes, either because they think the police won't do anything they think we'll be treated badly by the police, or they dismiss it as not a big deal and it is just the price you pay for being LGBTQ,” says Walt Meyer, an LGBTQ historian and manager of Lambda Archives, which compiles and documents local LGBTQ history.
Since 2013, the San Diego Police Department investigated 72 hate crimes in San Diego where the victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation.
And while anti-LGBTQ hate crimes statewide dipped in 2018 when compared to 2017, the number of hate crimes against the community increased from 11 attacks in 2017 to 14 in 2018 in San Diego.
According to data obtained by NBC 7, of the 72 hate crimes reported to the San Diego Police Department since 2013 in San Diego, males were victimized most - 55 out of 72 times. Females were victims in nine of the crimes while the remaining eight crimes had no gender listed.
And while men were victimized the most, they were also the assailants 46 times.
The assailants used a variety of weapons. The vast majority, in 34 cases, the suspects hit or kicked the victims. Other weapons used included knives, a brick, a chain, and in one case the suspect's spit.
In regards to injuries, eight victims were hospitalized, and four were treated for injuries following the attacks.
Local numbers appear similar in scope to newly released hate crime statistics from the FBI. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, according to the report, increased slightly from 2014 until 2017. That year, 58 precent of hate crimes were attacks on gay men, 24 percent were carried out over an anti-lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual bias. There were 131 hate crimes nationwide against transgender and non-gender-conforming people.
Meyer from Lambda Archives says San Diego has a checkered history with attacks motivated by sexual orientation.
Meyer organizes a monthly walking tour of LGBTQ history in Hillcrest. At one of the stops, two doors down from two popular and historical gay nightclubs, Meyer shows the scope and seriousness of some of San Diego’s most notorious hate crimes.
“Here is a hate crimes memorial, commemorating the last person to be gay bashed to death in San Diego,” says Meyer as he points to a 12-inch, bronze plaque outside of Cody’s Home and Gift Shop, two doors east of Flicks Nightclub in Hillcrest.
The bronze marker memorializes the death of 17-year-old John Wear, who in 1991 was walking just south of University Avenue in Hillcrest with two friends when a group of men approached them yelling anti-gay obscenities.
“Some guys stopped their car and started calling them fa&@#@$,” says Meyer as he points down at the inconspicuous marker. “There's no indication that Mr. Wear was gay. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But the 1000 block of University was the location to another of the city’s infamous anti-gay hate crimes.
In July 1999, during the 25th Gay Pride Parade, a suspect who was never apprehended launched two tear gas cannisters into a Family Matters group marching in the parade. Several young children were injured in the attack.
“Little eyes, little lungs were so badly burned by this,” said Meyer, who was a block away when the tear gas canisters exploded in the crowd.
“Somebody really went to some trouble to do this. They didn't just walk into a 7-Eleven and buy two cans of tear gas. This was something that they planned and executed,” adds Meyer. “This isn’t ancient history. These things still go on and we have to stay vigilant.”
Back at Lambda Archives’ office in University Heights Meyer walks through rows of boxes, neatly stacked and labeled. It’s where San Diego’s LGBTQ history lives. Meyer says that aside from the great strides that have been made in recent years, San Diego’s gay community has faced many challenges, including a strained relationship with the city’s police force.
“If people in the LGBTQ community don't like cops there's a really good reason. We are fortunate that the last few police chiefs have been very supportive and LGBTQ friendly. We have a couple of good people who are liaisons to the LGBT community. But, there is a fear that if you called in a hate crime against you for being gay the cops would come and rough you up. That was not uncommon.”
Lieutenant Dan Meyer is one of those liaisons.
Meyer says he and San Diego Transgender Liaison Christine Garcia are available by cell phone “24/7/365”.
“Any time we learn of a victim hesitant to come forward or report a crime, we work with our community partners to create a safe place and encourage them to move forward with their case and seek justice,” Meyer tells NBC 7 Investigates. “This process helps victims transition from being a victim to becoming a survivor.”
Lt. Meyer agrees that many hate crimes go unreported. He says the emotional toll on the victim can prevent them from coming forward. It is something, Meyer says, the department tries to address through community engagement.
Adds Lt. Meyer, “It is important to remember that crime does not happen in a vacuum and that the prosecution of one crime may in fact prevent another crime and additional victimization in the future. All incidents of hate and crimes, whether a person perceives them to be minor or major, must be reported to the Police Department so an investigation and possible prosecution can occur.”