Police investigate potential student hate crime
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 01:04
A university freshman was thrown to the ground at a Cleveland Avenue party earlier this month after attendees allegedly made disparaging remarks about his sexual orientation, police said. Results of a Thursday Student Conduct hearing for a student involved in the incident will be released this week.
Newark police spokesman Lt. Mark Farrall said the incident was reported to police at approximately 1:30 a.m. on April 15.
“Reports are somebody made derogatory comments to a subject regarding his sexuality and that individual was thrown to the ground,” Farrall said.
Freshman Zack Baum, who turned 19 years old on April 17 and who identifies as gay, told The Review that he arrived at the party, located on Cleveland Avenue near Wilbur Street, wearing a pink sash with the phrase “Birthday Girl” stitched on it.
After he was allegedly asked at the door if he was gay, Baum entered the party, where he told The Review he was grabbed by the neck and shoved to the ground by one person. While on the ground, beer was allegedly poured on him.
According to Baum, three friends helped him leave the residence, and the group encountered Newark police officers on foot patrol outside of Herman’s Quality Meat Shoppe at 64 E. Cleveland Ave. Baum declined to comment further on the advice of legal counsel.
“He was not injured in that incident,” Farrall said. “However, he was thrown to the ground. That’s what we’re looking in to.”
Baum told The Review that a judicial hearing, where officials are considering expulsion for his alleged attacker, took place Thursday morning. A resolution is expected within days.
Investigators are currently working to determine if the incident qualifies as a hate crime, Farrall said. If so, the investigators will contact the state attorney general office to determine appropriate charges.
Senior Colleen Dougherty, president of the student LGBT advocacy group Haven, said she was notified about the incident on Facebook and immediately contacted Baum.
“I was very shocked. It is, of course, hurtful because it’s someone that I know,” Dougherty said. “I know him well enough to know he’s a great kid.”
She thinks the incident will be designated a hate crime, a type of offense she believes students and community members often misunderstand.
“We still kind of have a sense of distance, a sense of, ‘This can’t happen to me, this can’t happen to my friends,’” Dougherty said. “And then here it is. It’s happening to someone that you care about. It was very shocking.”
Farrall said this type of criminal activity is rare in the area.
“This appears to be a pretty isolated incident in the city of Newark, if in fact the person was targeted for any specific reason, such as their sexual preference or sexual orientation,” he said. “That certainly won’t be tolerated by the police.”
University spokesman John Brennan stated in an email message that students who are threatened, harassed or attacked should contact university or Newark police officers.
“The safety of the members of our campus community is a primary concern, and we take it very seriously,” Brennan said. “Acts of violence are never tolerated.
Becki Fogerty, director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, encouraged students to report harassment incidents to the Office of Student Conduct. The Office of Equity and Inclusion offers resources related to civil rights, equal employment and affirmative action, and also offers support in harassment cases.
She stated in an email message that the April 15 incident is a break from recent trends she’s seen at her office.
“Our client load in the past is fairly even, with about half being students and the other half being employees,” Fogerty said. “In the past year, OEI’s informal harassment cases have not involved students.”
She said it can be difficult for witnesses to step in and help a victim during a harassment situation.
“Generally speaking, bystanders may suffer negative consequences for not stepping up such as powerlessness, guilt, anxiety, fear,” Fogerty said. “There is a social phenomenon known as the ‘bystander effect’ whereby the greater number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress.”
Dougherty praised Baum’s friends for their actions.
“If it wasn’t for Zach’s friends, other people may have gotten involved and he probably would’ve gotten hurt worse than he did,” she said. “It’s a good thing he had his friends sitting there beside him, as well as other bystanders that stopped the assault from escalating.”
Dougherty said Haven members plan to use the incident to inform the public about hate crimes.
“We’re in talks about what we can do to educate people about hate crimes and what they can do to prevent them,” she said. “We can’t tell those people, ‘Don’t be a victim.’ We have to tell them, ‘Don’t be a perpetrator.’ Educating people on hate crimes and how they can stop them, standing up for others around them, as well as standing up for themselves.”