Monday, February 05, 2007

CPR on New Bedford

Last week I discussed my Civil Rights class and the big paper I have to write about anything on a civil rights movement that I wanted. In the blog, I wrote about my preliminary topic - and the response was great. There were lots of comments for discussion and I even got several emails, including one from the head of offering me an interview on the subject (something I appreciate!).

Anyway, we have fairly easy - but interesting - weekly assignments called "CPR" - or Critical Policy Review. Basically, it's a short paper on a current Civil Rights issue to keep the class grounded in the present. I did this Monday's CPR on New Bedford and its first anniversary of the homophobic attack on Puzzle's Lounge. Because Civil Rights is very important to me, I think I'm going to be posting many of my CPRs on this website, at least if they're relevant to what's going on in Massachusetts. So, without further ado, here's this week's CPR.

Critical Policy Review: A Year After the Attack on Puzzle’s Lounge

Just a little more than a year ago, a man went into “Puzzle’s Lounge,” a gay bar in New Bedford. He asked if it was a gay bar – and when someone said yes, proceeded to shoot three people and use his hatchet to attack others. He quickly fled and three days later killed his ex-girlfriend, a police officer and himself in Arkansas during a police chase. It was an act of hate that hit the New Bedford area and UMASS Dartmouth very hard, especially within the GLBT community.

For the anniversary, several organizations came together to have a small candlelight vigil called “Light the Night” as a protest against violence in all forms. Among the speakers were the Mayor of New Bedford, Superintendent of the city’s school system, editor of the region’s largest newspaper and the founder of an organization to help the victims of Puzzles to get by. It was interesting to see what they all had to say and how all different kinds of people and organizations in New Bedford have altered policy and practice, realizing the type of potential violence some people in their community had to deal with that they didn’t know of before.

There were several interesting articles to come out of the event, including the South Coast’s editorial on the anniversary. The paper editorialized that Jacob Rabida, the alleged shooter, was clearly “a troubled teen-ager” and the attack on Puzzle’s wasn’t necessarily a reflection of the city’s attitude toward gay people, but the fact that there are always going to be insane people everywhere.

The point wasn’t that New Bedford shouldn't have done anything to prevent something like happening Puzzle’s again, it was that what Jacob Rabida did could have happened anywhere – from the deep red South to liberal, glbt-friendly San Francisco. Because of the reaction of New Bedford – a universal rejection of Rabida’s violence and a true, honest, compassionate attempt to analyze and address the incident by people of all levels within the city – the editor’s point has merit. New Bedford, as a city, took the incident very seriously and people really banded together in unity. The aftermath of Puzzle’s is that the vast majority of New Bedford has proven itself to be a diverse, accepting city.

Other articles on the subject worth mentioning briefly:
-The SouthCoast Times did an article about the vigil that was very worth reading, about what each speaker at the vigil had to say.
-InNewsWeekly did an article on the year-long anniversary, interviewing many people within the New Bedford community, including your’s truly,
-New Bedford Councilman Joe DeMedeiros had an article about him and his decision to publicly “come out” just after the Puzzles incident, something I wrote about a while ago.


joe said...

I don't mean this to be a poke at the gay community...

...But look at the way our society views people. A man goes on a spree at a gay bar and a year later there's vigils and whathaveyou, but a year from now, do you think there's going to be a vigil for the people that were killed at the Foxy? Does the fact that they were at a strip club and not a gay bar make the attack any-less hate-filled and maniacal?

I guess my point is: if you want to end violence, we can't hold a vigil for Puzzles and let the Foxy just be a 20 second segment on the news...there has to be outrage every time; people speaking out every time, and candles lit for every victim.

Mabye for a CPR you could do a compare and contrast on how the public reacted and how public policy in New Beddie was affected when someone shoots up a gay bar compared to a strip joint.

Ryan Adams said...

In part, I agree with you Joe. A lot of glbt people are more wrapped up in what happens to them compared to what happens in other communities. While that doesn't necessarily seem right, I'd almost stake my life on the fact that if it weren't for things like Matthew Shepard the gay rights that exist now probably wouldn't.

I had a cousin who was murdered in Lynn almost 10 years ago... her death was no less tragic than Matthew Shepard's, but because the public took Shepard's so seriously, there was a large, national effort focused on unfair crime targeted at a certain class of people. At least Shepard's murder became so important that it has meant fewer tragedies of that kind since. Maybe it'll be the same for Puzzles?

Or maybe you can just contribute it to the fact that there were a concerned group of citizens willing to organize something for it? Maybe, 8 or 9 months from now, we'll be having a Foxy vigil too?

Personally, I think New Bedford ought to wrap up both events as a sign that New Bedford has to do something to keep its night spots safe at night.

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