The popular Screen on the Green series at Piedmont Park ended abruptly last after several fights broke out and there were unconfirmed reports of gunfire.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quotes a Newnan man as saying he and his friend were victims of a “hate crime” during the melee, but the article does not specify what the motivation was for the alleged hate crime.
Sgt. Curtis Davenport, public information officer for the APD, said he has looked through numerous reports from last night and said nothing in the reports stated anything about a hate crime against anyone, including gay people, at the park.
“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” he said. “I have not heard anything about that and nothing is mentioned in any of the reports.”
A call to Officer Patricia Powell, the LGBT liaison for the APD, was not immediately returned.
Jesse Rhodes, who is openly gay, said what happened last night was an insult to the people of Midtown, including its gay residents. He lives at Post Parkside and walked to the park with a group of gay friends. While the fights and rowdy behavior broke out around them as they tried to watch “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” he and his gay friends felt very vulnerable, he said.
“We felt like sitting ducks,” he said. “They were definitely targeting gay people. One of my good friends, who is gay and works at Swinging Richards, got jumped by five people and beat up,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes added that when he was walking out of the park he was called “faggot” and other obscenities and said women at the event were also called lesbians.
“I was called a faggot. There were a couple of fights in front of Blake’s [the gay bar on 10th Street] — it was all pretty pathetic,” he said. “I was verbally discriminated against based on my sexual preference.”
Rhodes said he was called the anti-gay slur while walking along 10th Street from Charles Allen toward Piedmont Avenue.
He said the people causing the problems were not from Midtown and likely were OTP — outside the perimeter.
“They were young and definitely looking for trouble,” Rhodes said.
“It went from the people with Chick-fil-A being overwhelmed to females being called lesbians. It was more of an insult to the people of Midtown regardless of who we are,” he said.
According to the AJC article:
Josh Hice, 26, of Newnan, was driving by Piedmont Park Thursday night with a friend when he was attacked by a group of high school-age people.
“There was a car stopped in front of me and a car stopped behind me, and there was this crowd of about 30 high school kids parading down the street,” said Hice, who was driving an open-top Jeep.
First, a girl came up and spat in his face, Hice said, then he was punched in the face by another teen.
“It split my lip, then they start climbing all over my Jeep, and I turn around and my buddy is getting punched in the face and has blood pouring out of his nose,” Hice said. “It was ridiculous. We were definitely victims of a hate crime.”
Traffic ahead of Hice finally moved “and I just peeled out of there. I peeled out even with one of the dudes still hanging on the back of the Jeep, and he just jumped off.”
“I felt like I was in another country,” Hice said.
Davenport said the APD was not providing security for the event. Screen on the Green is sponsored by Peachtree TV in conjunction with the Piedmont Park Conservancy and the sponsors are required to provide security. The sponsors submitted a security plan to the APD for approval, Davenport said.
“We are investigating whether what was approved was actually what was in place,” he said.
There were several off-duty APD officers providing security for the event with the private security company, he added, but security officers for the event only have to be certified. However, when the fights became very disruptive, the security company on site asked APD for assistance, Davenport said.
“This was an off-duty event [for the APD]. They [the sponsors] provide security. APD was called in when the event was canceled and we deployed nine or 10 officers and had the park cleared out in 15 minutes,” he said.
Police cannot confirm whether there was gunfire as reported by some attendees. Davenport said the APD did receive reports from last week’s Screen on the Green that fireworks were used.
Davenport added that it appeared there were two groups of females and a group of males that were causing the disruptions and fights.
Rhodes has started a Facebook group asking people to “Take Back Screen on the Green.”