The Atlanta Police Department has asked the FBI to investigate the recent attack on a gay couple in Piedmont Park after the APD classified the assault as a “bias crime.”

“Bias crime” and “hate crime” are often used interchangeably and mean the same thing, according the Jeff Graham, executive director of the Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization.

A federal hate crimes law is now in effect and local agencies can ask for the FBI’s assistance in investigating alleged hate crimes.

“Georgia had a hate crimes law, which was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court. However, APD still identifies and tracks biased crimes,” said APD spokesperson Carlos Campos today in a statement.

“We work with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office through our Investigator assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to identify these types of crimes for them to prosecute if they choose to do so. We have sent this Piedmont Park robbery investigation to the FBI JTTF for their review,” he added.

The APD tracks hate crimes — those based on race, sexual orientation, religion, for example — “to ensure we don’t have a pattern of these types of crimes,” Campos added.

“Because of this, we do handle these crimes differently by having the Special Enforcement Section conduct follow up investigations. This is also the trigger to notify the GLBT liaison officer of the crime, and for the liaison officer to contact the victims and see what else may need to be done, depending on the crime,” he said.

“Additionally, we can make referrals to the FBI, and we do discuss these crimes with the District Attorney’s Office, although there is no state law,” Campos explained.

Rev. Josh Noblitt and his partner were attacked and robbed by gunpoint in Piedmont Park on July 2. Before they were attacked, the couple was asked by the alleged assailants if they were gay.

““They walked up directly to us and asked, ‘Are y’all gay? Two men laying on a blanket. We ought to beat y’all for that,’” Noblitt told the Georgia Voice.

Six young people have been arrested and charged in the assault.

The APD also announced today it is seeking to form a new LGBT advisory board to open communication and better relations with the city’s gay community.

In Savannah, two Marines accused of beating up a man because he is gay, appeared in court this morning but the assistant district attorney told the judge more time was needed to investigate the case.

Georgia LGBT activists asked the FBI to investigate the Savannah assault as a hate crime and federal authorities are involved in the investigation.

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