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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Tony Randolph Hunter

This entry is part 50 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

One of the major lasting effects of hate crimes is the fear that they spread through the community at which they’re directed. In many ways, that’s the intended outcome: to make people afraid to do that which they have every right to do and every right to expect to be safe in doing.

There’s a ripple that spreads through a community that’s just experienced a hate crime. For one, people see themselves in the victim, and see their everyday actions reflected in the story of the victim’s activities just prior to being attacked. We say to ourselves “I walk down that street just about every night, on my way home,” or “I love that bar! I go there two or three times a week.” And, seeing how vulnerable the victim was in the same circumstances, we change our routine. We take walk a different route home. We decide not to go to that particular bar tonight.

And if fear can make us do that much, even more fear can lead us to do even more in the name of banishing it or drowning out its warnings. Enough fear can make us wary of gathering or even being near each other, and make us fear raising our voices or making demands; however much we have a right to do so.

When I read about Randolph Hunter’s murder, I set it aside as something I knew I wanted to read later. What struck me about the story was how unremarkable Hunter’s actions had been prior to the attack. At most, he went out to a bar with a friend, and they were attacked when they stepped out of the car, having not even made it to the door.

They were on their way to Be Bar, in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood. The bar itself was met with hostility before it even opened, as a hearing on granting the bar’s liquor license showed. Attendees in an unusually packed room objected to the location of the bar, and it’s proximity to a church that also housed a day-care center. “Don’t they understand that there is a day-care center in the church?”, on parishioner exclaimed, who probably didn’t know that the busiest hours of the bar wouldn’t even start until long after the kids were picked up. (Of course her assumption was probably they kids were be in danger of sexual molestation.) The D.C. Black Church Initiative objected to the bar, not on legal grounds, but on the grounds that it would “undermine the moral character” of the neighborhood.

But the controversy was really more about the changes that were taking place in Shaw and surrounding neighborhoods.

In addition to new gay homeowners, gay-owned businesses have cropped up in Shaw over the past few years. They include D.C. Guesthouse, a bed and breakfast; Fairies’ Crossing, a landscaping business; Interiority Complex, a window treatment store; a set design business and a web design business.

Gay-owned businesses with plans to open this year include Be Bar and a new art gallery, Longview Gallery.

An ongoing conflict between one Shaw church, scripture Cathedral, and the planned Be Bar over the bar’s liquor license has exposed anti-gay bias on the part of scripture Cathedral, said Padro, who also serves as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 2C, which includes Shaw.

“This is the first time the community has had to deal with flagrant bigotry of this type,” said Padro, who is gay. “Unfortunately, these churches are pretty much the definition of bad neighbors. There have only been a handful of times that the issues of gay businesses and gay residents being a part of the community have come up [in Shaw], but unfortunately when they have come up, they have not been the most positive experiences.”

Bishop C.L. Long, pastor at scripture Cathedral, has said in church sermons that homosexuality is a biblical curse. Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the D.C. Black Church Initiative, joined in the Be Bar’s license protest, saying he opposes the “homosexual lifestyle.” The liquor licensing board dismissed those protests this week.

Despite the flap, several of Shaw’s gay residents said they have found the neighborhood to be very gay-friendly.

(It’s worth noting that, despite the above, Hunter was an African American gay man in a still predominantly African American neighborhood.)

When we walk through our communities we walk through their histories, both ancient and recent, and track a bit if their unsettled dust back into the present.

That was at least partly true of Hunter’s own unfinished walk from his car to the door of BeBar. Perhaps even more. Though Hunter’s friends and member of the community say that Hunter didn’t make and/or wouldn’t have made the sexual advances that his killer said sparked the attack, in truth it may not have taken more than a few words to spark an attack. Kevin Aviance was brutally beaten for something he’d said to his attackers, as was Dwan Prince.

Hunter’s killer alleged that Hunter had said to him, “Oh, hey. I know you,” and grabbed his buttocks. Leaving aside the alleged groping, Hunter’s words may have been enough to spark an attack from someone who is insecure and secretive about his sexuality, and afraid that his friends will wonder just why this “faggot” knows him and how.

It’s a walk I’ve taken myself. Even before the O Street bars vanished from D.C.’s southwest quadrant, to make way for a baseball stadium, I missed them. For at least a couple of years Zigfield’s was a regular haunt of mine, thanks to friends who took me there one night. I spent many a night drinking diet coke and watching some fabulous drag performances. (In fact, I spent more time there than I did tipping the male dancers in the other half of the bar.)

Getting to Zigfield’s or any of the other bars was something of an adventure, since parking was scarce to the point of being non-existent. One usually had to park a ways off, and walk a couple of poorly lit blocks to get the to the club’s door. I always looked over my shoulder, out of reflex, because it looked just like a place where someone might get bashed. And if I saw someone I knew, or had known in that sense of the word, I might not always speak especially if I saw any sign that the might not want it known.

How easily could one end up getting bashed in that scenario?

I hope never to find out. Researching and writing up what happened to Tony Randolph Hunter, is close enough.

Tony Randolph Hunter, a 37-year old an African American gay man, from Clinton, MD, died on September 10, 2008, from injuries sustained during an attack by four men. One of the men Robert Hanna later told police he acted in “self-defense” after Hunter allegedly made sexual advances.

The Background

Tony Randolph Hunter

Hours before the attack that would cause his death, Hunter attended a gospel concert on the National Mall, with friend Dana Fonville. His Friends described him as a warm, caring person who considered his Christian faith to be an important part of his life.1)

On September 7, Hunter and friend Trevor Carter, 23, were on their way to meet friends at BeBar — a bar in Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood, which caters to a mostly gay clientele. Hunter’s friend, Lamont Joy, said they never arrived.2)

The Attack

The attack took place at about 11:30 p.m. on September 7. Police said a group of four black males approximately ages 19 to 22, wearing jeans and t-shirts,3) jumped Hunter and Carter seconds after they stepped out of their car.4)

At least one assailant said, “What’s up?” before the group began swinging at them, and Hunter was knocked to the ground.5) The four men confronted Hunter and Carter, punching each of them in the face. Carter managed to get away, thinking Hunter was behind him. But Hunter had been knocked unconscious.6)

The suspects stole a set of car keys and $15, before fleeing in unknown directions.7) Police responding to a report of an unconscious person, arrived the scene to find Hunter unconscious and suffering severe head trauma.8) Police near the scene saw the attackers fleeing from about one block away.9)

The Motive

According to ANC commissioner Alexander Pardo, people close to the investigation said the suspect confessed to killing Hunter, but claimed he acted in self-defense when Hunter made sexual advances toward him. Brett Parsons, director of the police department’s Special Liaison Units, including the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, said the initial report categorized the attack as a hate crime because of its proximity to BeBar. Investigators later withdrew the hate crime classification, after determining that there was insufficient evidence of anti-gay bias, and that the motive for the crime seemed to be robbery.10)

In an interview on September 22, after his arrest, Hanna would tell the police that the attack occurred just after Hunter said to him, “Oh, I know you.” According to the affidavit, Hannah said Hunter “grabbed his buttocks and then touched his testicles.” Hannah said he punched Hunter two or three times on his neck, in an area near his chin. He said Hunter fell back on to a fence after being struck, then pushed himself off the fenced, and then said something unintelligible, but that sounded like he was trying to apologize.

Hannah said he heard Hunter’s head hit the ground about five seconds after he punched him, and that he did not see anyone else punch Hunter before he fell to the ground.11)

The Aftermath

Carter suffered a bruise to his jaw, was treated at a local hospital and released. Hunter suffered a laceration to the back of the head. He was placed on life support at Howard University, and his condition was described as guarded. Family friend, Joy, told the Washington Blade that Hunter’s family was then informed that he was not breathing on his own.12)

Hunter died on September 17, 10 days after the attack.13)

Community Response

On September 28, about 200 people took part in a candlelight march and vigil in honor of Hunter. D.C. city council members Jack Evans, Carol Schwartz and Kwame Brown joined the march and vigil, which began at the Metropolitan Community church at 5th and Ridge Streets. Participants walked about five block through the heart of D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood to the site of the attack at 8th and N Streets NW.attack.14)

Arrest

In late September 2008, police announced that they were close to an arrest in Hunter’s murder.15) In October 2008, police identified Hanna, 18, as a person of interest in connection with Hunter’s beating and death. On October 15, 2008, Hanna was arrested for Hunter’s murder.16)

Plea, Sentencing & Protest

On July 16, 2009, Hanna pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.17) The charge carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail. Members of the community, including Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), criticized the plea and sentencing as a ‘miscarriage of justice.’18) GLOV co-chairs Chris Farris and Todd Metrokin criticized the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for accepting Hanna’s claim that Hunter made sexual advances to him that brought on the attack.19)

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