Teens arrested in anti-gay crime charged as adults

Rev. Josh Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church, one of the victims of the armed robbery on July 2, attended the court hearing on Aug. 2 and said Senior Patrol Officer Patricia Powell, the Atlanta Police Department’s LGBT liaison, was with him the entire time.

He said that before he and his friend, Trent Williams, were attacked last month while having an evening picnic in Piedmont Park, three of the suspects walked up to them and asked, “Are y’all gay? Two men laying on a blanket. We ought to beat y’all for that.”

The three youths walked off and returned later with a stick and got into a fight with Noblitt and his partner. During the fight, Noblitt called police from his cell phone. At the same time one of the three youths called for reinforcements, according to Noblitt and APD reports.

Several more teens showed up on the scene and one pulled a gun on Noblitt, held it to his head, and demanded their money.

Despite the seriousness of the crime, Noblitt admits he is torn about some of the teens being charged as adults. Knowing one of the suspects is 13 is “heartbreaking,” he has said.

“I honestly don’t know how I feel about these young people being tried as adults, because I don’t know a lot about the differences between the adult system and the juvenile system, and whether in these type of circumstances either one of them offer any meaningful rehabilitation other than prison time or paying a fine,” Noblitt said after the Aug. 2 hearing.

“I still know nothing about these young people,” he added. “Why were they in the park to begin with that night causing trouble? Have they done this before? What is their home life like? Do they have any mental health problems that have been undiagnosed or untreated?

“Where did they get their anti-gay rhetoric from and what led them to believe that they were justified in committing acts of violence on someone because they were perceived to be gay?

Noblitt noted that he is “also interested in examining ways in which we can change the climate of our culture so that young people do not end up in these situations.”

“Better yet, I’m interested in changing the hearts and minds of young people so that they will embrace diversity and understand sexual orientation and gender identity to be just another part of who a person is the same way that things like being left handed, tall, curly haired or introverted are,” he said.

At a July 22 LGBT town hall forum with top brass of the APD including Chief George Turner and Powell, the LGBT liaison, Noblitt asked what the city was doing to try to curb juvenile crime in the city.

Mayor Kasim Reed, who was also at the forum, explained that his promise to open recreation centers throughout the city to offer young people a place to go and participate in activities such as basketball tournaments and other sporting events was one way his administration was working to address the issue.

Police will pick members of LGBT advisory board

Also at the July 22 LGBT town hall forum, longtime activist Lorraine Fontana asked how the APD would select members for an LGBT advisory board to the police department and suggested asking for input from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Atlanta residents.

Powell said at the forum she would ask her superiors about that possibility, but told Georgia Voice on July 30 it was decided the APD would make the choice as to who would serve.

“I appreciate the suggestion of having the community have a hand in picking the GLBT board. There’s some merit to that idea. However, in the interest of getting the board up and running soon, I think it’s best for the Atlanta Police Department to guide this process,” Powell said.

More than 100 people had applied or been nominated to serve on the nine-member board that is expected to meet quarterly and could begin meeting as soon as this fall, she said.

“We think it’s important for the department’s GLBT board to have a good cross-section of individuals that are representative of the diverse GLBT community. We have given careful consideration to various sectors we want represented, and we also hope to include community leaders who have specific knowledge and expertise they can bring the APD, and will be able to reach an audience of their own to help the APD in communicating its messages,” Powell added.

“By allowing the community to ‘pick’ the board, we would have no assurance those goals would be met. Also — as you well know — the GLBT community is not monolithic, and getting a committee to agree on who would be best suited to serve on the board would likely be difficult and time-consuming. At this time, I think it’s best that I work closely with Chief Turner’s office to populate the board — which we hope will be very soon.”

Powell said she understands many people may not be happy with this decision, but the department is embarking on a “good-faith effort” with the LGBT advisory board.

“Undoubtedly, there will be those who are unhappy with our board members, no matter whom we select. It is certainly the community’s prerogative to disagree. But we have embarked on a good-faith effort, and hope to name qualified people who will work diligently and conscientiously to improve relations between the community and the police department,” she said.


Top photo: Rev. Josh Noblitt (left), a victim of an anti-gay bias crime, says it is ‘heartbreaking’ that one of his alleged assailants is only 13 years old. Atlanta Police Officer Patricia Powell, the LGBT liaison, said that the LGBT advisory board to the APD will be selected by the department without input from the community. (by Dyana Bagby)