Rev. Josh Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church and his partner say they were robbed at gunpoint Friday in Piedmont Park by a group of young men after being asked if they were gay.
Noblitt said he and his partner, Trent, were having a picnic dinner on the grassy area on 10th Street at about 9:45 p.m. on July 2 when three young men approached them.
“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 said.
But Noblitt thought because the three appeared to be so young they were just harassing them.
“I was more offended than afraid,” he recalled.
The three youths walked off but returned later with one of them carrying a large stick, Noblitt said.
“He started wielding the stick and they were demanding money,” Noblitt said.
Noblitt said he was able to grab the stick from his assailant and hit him over the head with it. He said his partner, who knows karate, kicked the others in the face.
“We fought back against those three,” Noblitt said.
When Noblitt called 911 to report he and his partner were being attacked, one of the three young men allegedly called someone and between eight to 10 others showed up quickly on bicycles and surrounded the two men.
“They came out of nowhere,” Noblitt said.
One of the men who rode up on his bike had a handgun. He put the gun to Noblitt’s temple, demanding money, Noblitt said.
“I told him everything you want is on the blanket,” Noblitt said.
The assailants allegedly took Noblitt’s wallet, phone, keys and his partner’s phone and ran off.
An Atlanta Police Department officer who was working at the Charles Allen entrance of the park setting up for the Peachtree Road Race responded quickly to the scene. Six of the suspects were apprehended that night by APD, according to Noblitt.
“I do want to say the Atlanta Police Department officers were incredible — they were really respectful and really responsive,” Noblitt said.
Carlos Campos, public affairs manager for the APD, responded this morning saying the city was closed for the Fourth of July weekend and information on the police reports Noblitt and his partner filed would likely not be available for a few days. Whether the crime will be classified as a hate crime is unknown as well.
“I’ll work on getting these [police reports] for you after the holiday (city is closed today). It can take a few business days for incident reports to get in the system, but I will check tomorrow if they’re available yet. I’ll also loop some folks in on your inquiry on how the crimes will be classified,” Campos said in an email.
Noblitt thinks the crime may be gang-related, but added that perhaps the assailants figured gay people in the park would be easier to victimize.
“There are so many guys in the park. Maybe they think gay folks are easy targets,” he said.
Of the six arrested, Noblitt said he was told by police that two were juveniles and the others were in their late teens or early 20s.
Noblitt said he was kicked very hard several times and has a bruised back and rib and a bruise on his forehead.
“All of this still seems surreal,” he said. “I keep thinking, ‘Did that really just happen this weekend?’”
On Sunday at Saint Mark, Noblitt said he talked about how some churches can be responsible for the hatred people feel toward gay people.
“The church can be the source of a lot of hate toward LGBT people,” he said. “This makes me feel good about the work Saint Mark does and other affirming churches to try to change that climate.”
Noblitt said it is also important for Atlanta’s LGBT community to be aware of the crimes taking place in Midtown.
“Sometimes we live in a bubble, but right here in Midtown a hate crime can happen,” he said.
Noblitt said he put in a call to Officer Patricia Powell, the Atlanta Police Department’s LGBT liaison, today to find out if the crime will be classified as a hate crime. A call to Powell was not immediately returned.
Noblitt is Saint Mark’s minister of social justice.