Something went seriously awry in Provincetown this summer, where several attacks with possible homophobic overtones were ignored by, and in one case was committed by, the town’s own law-enforcement officials.
The problem appears to stem from the use of temporary “summer police” — an understandable arrangement, considering the seasonal swelling of population and activity in the Cape Cod hot spot.
But those literal hired guns need to be sensitive to Provincetown’s gay population and its constant fear of anti-homosexual assaults. Instead, the town provided no special training for their summer police, setting up a disaster waiting to happen.
It did happen, in fact, on July 14, when several of those summer police broke up a back-yard party attended mostly by gay men. Well-known Boston DJ Barry Scott informed partygoers over a sound system that the event was being shut down, and allegedly added that “we hate” the Provincetown police.
Witnesses dispute that he said those words, but it hardly matters; it’s no justifiable provocation for what happened next. According to Scott’s account, a police officer smashed Scott’s head into a wall and into a propane tank and kicked him in the leg, in the process of arresting and handcuffing him. Scott remains charged with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.
Did the summer cop beat up Scott out of homophobia or just ordinary brutality? We’d like to know. Provincetown residents and visitors need to know.
Unfortunately, Provincetown’s acting police chief, Warren Tobias, and the Cape’s district attorney (DA), Michael O’Keefe, deny that any misconduct even happened. Tobias has refused to investigate the incident internally. After town manager Sharon Lynn officially requested a DA review, O’Keefe — whose office is prosecuting Scott — concluded this past week that there was no wrongdoing by the officer, despite more than a dozen witnesses stacked against a farcical police report, which claims Scott’s injuries occurred when “his nose inadvertently came in contact with the external window frame.”
It is time for the Provincetown police to wake up and join the 21st century. If they can not muster a sense of common decency, they must at least recognize that their community hosts a diverse population that makes a huge economic contribution to local well-being. The DA has an even greater responsibility to guarantee that public safety is maintained fairly and humanely. The conduct of the DA’s office has been a disgrace.
The Scott saga is only one piece of Provincetown’s “see no evil” approach. The latest evidence is a September 10 incident, in which a gay man was allegedly called “faggot” before being bashed on the head and left bloodied and unconscious on the beach.
Police failed to get him medical attention and did not take down critical information about the attack and possible attackers, as Tobias has conceded to Bay Windows.
According to the Cape Cod Times, Provincetown’s police force is currently investigating at least two other homophobic attacks that occurred this summer: an assault in late June in which attackers allegedly called a group of men “faggots” while pushing them, threatening them, and throwing rocks at them; and a late-August incident in which two gay men were allegedly hit with bicycles by a group of youths.
Oddly, the Provincetown police are insisting that all these assaults are being investigated as potential “hate incidents” rather than “hate crimes.” The legal distinction, simply, is that a hate incident of “bigotry, bias, animus, or prejudice” becomes a hate crime under Massachusetts law when it involves an underlying criminal act, such as assault or battery.
Last we checked, throwing rocks at people, hitting them with bicycles, and bashing them on the head are criminal acts. If Provincetown authorities think otherwise, that calls into question the town’s claim that there have been no hate crimes there since 2004. They should be more concerned with the truth than with maintaining their spotless statistics.
Town officials and District Attorney O’Keefe need to take the threat of hate crimes and the training of summer police far more seriously if they expect people to return to the Cape’s most vibrant community next summer.