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Early on July 13, Todd Metrokin and two of his friends figured they’d wind up a night at Town, the dance club, with a jumbo slice in Adams Morgan. At a joint around the corner from their friends’ apartment, Metrokin bought two slices and then quickly realized he’d gone overboard. He offered his second slice to a man standing nearby and, after taking it, the man said loudly into his cell phone: “Some faggot just gave me a slice of pizza.”
Metrokin, who is gay, didn’t hear it, although one of his friends did. They kept walking, stopping to eat on the stoop of their friends’ apartment building in the 1800 block of Kalorama Road NW, about half a block from the pizza place on 18th Street. This was about 4 a.m. Within five minutes of the pizza exchange, the man with the phone and at least four of his buddies showed up.
According to the police report, “the suspects began insulting the complainants by yelling homophobic epithets.” They then “began punching, kicking and assaulting” all three men, the report says.
Aaron, one of the victims who did not want his last name printed, says they were yelling “fucking faggots” during the melee. Metrokin got the worst of it: 10 stitches under his left eye and a partial footprint under his right where someone stomped on his face.
Clocked early, he remembers few details that will help police find his attackers; they are all described in the report as black men between the ages of 17 and 21.Yet Metrokin came away with a key piece of evidence.
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Upon his release from George Washington University Hospital, someone handed him his bloody clothes and a cell phone. After he got home, groggy from pain meds, he realized the phone wasn’t his. He flipped it open and recognized the face of one of the assailants. He called police right away and was told someone would come pick it up. Four days later and after two more phone calls to the police department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, someone did.
On July 23, 10 days after the attack, Metrokin says he called the unit again because he had not heard from the police. He was told Det. C. Michelle McConnell in the 3rd District was handling his case. The following day, Metrokin says, McConnell called him and said she had just collected the phone, “citing training and work schedule as her excuse for the delay in retrieving” it. McConnell, reached by phone during her midnight shift, declined comment and hung up when asked about progress on the case.
According to Metrokin, she is “close” to obtaining information from the phone.
“It’s unfortunate” that Metrokin talks publicly about the evidence, says acting Lt. Brett Parson, head of the police department’s special liaison units, who was called in on the night of the attack. Since it’s an active investigation, he says, discussing the details could tip off the suspects; also, he says, the ongoing nature of the case means police can’t and shouldn’t comment on its progress.
Parson says he does understand Metrokin’s frustration. “If I were a victim of a crime like that and the case was not closed even after one day, that would be taking too long,” he says.
Metrokin, 39 and a 16-year resident of the U Street neighborhood, grew up in Alaska and came out as a college student at Radford University in Virginia. This was in the late ’80s, during the AIDS crisis and ACT UP. He has been an activist on and off since then and has volunteered with the Center, the “Home for GLBT in Metro DC.” He has also been attacked before, during college, at an alternative dance party his college paper mischaracterized as “Gay Night.”
Acceptance has advanced a great deal since those days, says Metrokin, but not quite enough. Even “in this little bubble of the Northwest, where everything seems fine and safe,” he says, people are still attacked or mugged because they are gay “or because they look gay.”
Parson says that’s true and that it’s also true that gay-bashing is under-reported to the police. Chris Farris, a founder of the performance group Crack and the author of a post on thenewgay.net about Metrokin’s trauma, agrees. He says, “I wrote the piece because I feel I have heard this story so many times in the past year.”
Farris goes on to relate an attack on a friend “who got beat in my [D.C.] neighborhood and beat bad while walking home from a gay bar.…His head was pushed into the sidewalk so hard he had to go to the doctor the next day to get gravel dug out of his cheek.” Farris, via thenewgay blog, recently launched a reporting effort, pushing people to e-mail the details of assaults to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It was not my goal to become a poster child” for hate crimes against gay people, says Metrokin, who works in advertising at a PR firm downtown. “But here I am.”
The attack fits D.C.’s criteria as a hate-motivated crime, says Parson. It’s one of 16 recorded this year, according to police stats.
There’s no question about the motivation behind the crime, says Aaron, a 35-year-old IT specialist who broke his finger and suffered a bruised rib alongside his friend—Metrokin—and his boyfriend, Ryan, who suffered minor injuries. “The whole thing started off as ‘Faggot’ and ‘You fucking faggot.’ We didn’t provoke.…Todd was just being nice.”
Since that night, Metrokin sees his neighborhood differently. “The other night I was walking home from Nellie’s, around 11:30, and then it occurred to me. I thought, ‘My God. What did I just do?,’” says Metrokin. “And it really pissed me off.”