Witness

A blog about forensic psychology

Film to explore gay-bashing in friendly, liberal community

Filmmaker Dan Bruun probes causes and consequences of youth violence

Lawrence "Mikey" Partida's injuries
It was a tragic end to his 32nd birthday celebration. As Lawrence “Mikey” Partida left his cousin’s house, a young neighbor confronted him, hurling antigay epithets before beating Partida unconscious. The slightly built long-distance runner and grocery clerk was left with a fractured skull and a piece of wooden fence post embedded behind his eye. He underwent months of surgery and rehabilitation.

The event shocked the idyllic university community of Davis, California. Nestled between San Francisco and the state’s capital city of Sacramento, the town of 65,000 is ranked among the best places to live in America, with a reputation as safe, welcoming, liberal, educated and bicycle-friendly.

Perhaps more surprising than the assault itself was the identity of the perpetrator, and his kid-gloves treatment by the criminal justice system.

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Clay Garzon
Clayton “Clay” Garzon, then 19, is the son of two well respected physicians, one of them a prominent humanitarian. Yet notwithstanding his privileged and progressive upbringing, this was not his first violent attack; he was awaiting trial on charges stemming from a drunken brawl the year before in which four young men were stabbed. Despite the fact that he was out on bail already when he mercilessly beat Partida, he was approved for bail of only $75,000, allowing his immediate release yet again. He ultimately pled guilty to assault, battery and hate crime charges in exchange for a sentence of five years in the local county jail, under a prison realignment law (AB 109) intended only for non-violent offenses.

Despite having used antigay slurs before, during and after the assault, Garzon and his attorney insisted that the attack was not motivated by antigay animus.

Forensic linguistics

Of potential interest to this blog's audience, the defense called an expert in the new field of forensic linguistics, who opined that Garzon's use of the term faggot was "more consistent with challenging [Partida's] masculinity" than with hatred. William Eggington, a linguistics professor from Brigham Young University, testified at Garzon's preliminary hearing that a tolerant family upbringing in a liberal community "would lower the possibility that this would be a gender- related crime." 

This testimony highlights a vexing problem with so-called “hate crime laws.” Their very name fosters a misimpression that bias crimes are necessarily motivated by hatred. As I found in my research with antigay assailants, this is far from the case. Such crimes are often driven more by instrumental goals such as fitting in with a peer group or demonstrating visible proof of masculinity than by outright animus. As the prosecutor, Jonathan Raven of the Yolo County District Attorney's Office, pointed out, hatred is not a requisite element of a hate crime: “One simply has to be motivated by a bias, in whole or in part.” The idea behind the enhanced penalty is that by attacking a person based even in part on his or her group membership, one is causing fear in the targeted class. As Raven noted in a statement, “certainly the crime in this case caused those in the LGBT community to be fearful.”

Further complicating Garzon's motivations is the fact that he lashed out at Partida when the gay man told him to stop pestering Partida’s female cousin, whom Garzon had been aggressively pursuing all night long.

Unpacking violence

Filmmaker (right) with Partida
Disentangling the complex and multifaceted roots of violence is the goal of anthropologist and filmmaker Daniel Bruun, who is producing a film, “Davisville 2013,” on the case.

Bruun, a Davis native, closely followed the case for a year as it wended its way through the legal system, recording more than 50 hours of courtroom proceedings and interviews. He even tracked down the victims in Garzon’s other case.

Ironically, while Partida experienced an outpouring of support from the Davis community, including an appeal from Sikh leaders for higher bail, Garzon’s other victims, young working-class white men who were not a member of a protected minority, were not feeling the love. As candlelight vigils were held in Davis for Partida, police in nearby Dixon couldn’t even be bothered to investigate, according to Bruun’s investigation.

“If [Garzon] never would’ve done that [hate crime], he probably never would’ve gone to jail -- ever,” lamented one of the forgotten stabbing victims. “It hurts that they didn’t really care for us.” 

Candlelight vigil for Partida
In a front-page interview in the Davis Enterprise last week, Bruun said he first started contemplating the causes of seemingly senseless and random violence when he was in junior high school, and a 14-year-old Davis boy was beaten, robbed of two dollars and pushed into a moving train by three local teens. “I was affected by it, but I felt like the story was never told in a complete way,” Bruun told reporter Lauren Keene.

He seized upon the Davis case as a chance to tell a bigger story, about the causes of male youth violence as well as its impact on victims, communities, and even the assailants themselves.

“It seemed like an opportunity to tell a story like that in the best way possible -- to be involved in it as the story is unfolding.”

Bruun’s prior documentaries included anthropologically informed explorations of underground cultures in Manchester, England and The Bronx; his short film Temporary Sanity is on the Royal Anthropological Institute's recommended curriculum for anthropology undergraduates in Great Britain.

Bruun is kicking off a month-long fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, a San Francisco-based fundraising website. He hopes to raise $10,000 to complete the project.

Bruun plans to interview me along with prominent hate crime expert Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis. I realize that I just put the word out about fundraising for another documentary, on violence against transgender women of color (again involving me as an expert), but if you feel so inclined, here’s a link to donate to Bruun’s worthy Davisville 2013 project as well.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D., is a forensic psychologist in Northern California.

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