A gay couple beaten and robbed in Piedmont Park by a group of male youths has been classified as a “bias crime” by Atlanta Police officials.

Rev. Josh Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church and his partner were picnicking in the park on the evening of July 2 when they were approached by several young black males and beaten and then robbed at gunpoint.

The first three young men who approached Noblitt and his partner asked, “Are y’all gay? Two men laying on a blanket. We ought to beat y’all for that,’” Noblitt told the Georgia Voice.

Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD, said today they have classified the crime as a “bias crime.”

Campos said the APD is acknowledging it also did not follow protocol by informing Officer Patricia Powell, the LGBT liaison, about the incident until several days after it occurred.

Campos said in a statement:

“The Atlanta Police Department is treating Friday’s armed robbery of two gay men in Piedmont Park as a ‘bias crime.’ This is how the department classifies crimes in which bias based on color, nationality, sexual orientation or other factors played a role in the attack.

“Georgia, however, does not have a hate crimes statute, so there is not a separate charge attached to the incident.

“Department policy requires that the GLBT liaison be contacted in the event of a bias crime against anyone in the gay community. That did not happen in this incident. Department commanders will reiterate this policy to ensure compliance in the future.

“Senior Patrol Officer Patricia Powell, who recently was named a GLBT liaison, will also be visiting personally with officers in the field to emphasize the importance of this procedure. It should also be noted that Officer Powell reached out to the victims of the Piedmont Park assault upon learning of the incident, and is re-doubling her efforts to communicate with the gay community, including the forming of a new GLBT advisory board for the APD.”

Six suspects were arrested in the crime, ranging in ages from 13 through 19.

The term “bias crime” and “hate crime” are often used interchangeably, said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality.

There are no enhanced sentencing measures for someone convicted of a hate crime in Georgia because the state has no hate crimes law.

However, over the past several years, the APD has been one of the Georgia agencies that has been voluntary reporting hate crimes to the FBI for its data collection of such crimes.

It is not known if the FBI will become involved in investigating this specific incident as a hate crime now that there is a federal hate crimes law in effect.

A “Keep Midtown SAFE Meeting” open to the public is scheduled to be held Friday at 5:30 p.m. and will include Officer Powell, an APD representative from Zone 5 and members of MPSA and Midtown Blue.

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