Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Need Conversation About Safety

I was interviewed by channel 11 earlier today. You can view it on

UPDATE/ 5:22 p.m. 01/27/09: Johnson City police say the beating death of a man at New Beginnings nightclub was not the result of a hate crime. Although the sexual preferences of both Bradley Ashby, the accused attacker, and James Lewis, the victim, remain unclear, Lt. Steve Sherfey says what happened at the gay-friendly nightspot was not motivated by anyone’s sexual-orientation. In fact, investigators aren’t sure there was a motive at all.

“I think it was just a brawl at a bar that went too far,“ Sherfey said.

Sherfey says when the bar closed Sunday morning, a crowd spilled into the New Beginnings parking lot. He says several people who had been drinking exchanged words, a fight started, two women were hit, and ultimately Ashby punched Lewis once in the face. Lewis died the next day at the hospital. Sherfey hopes an autopsy will reveal more about his death.

“We’ll have to wait on the results of that to conclusively say what he died from, whether it was the blow that killed him or the fall that killed him,“ Sherfey said.

Regardless, Sherfey says it wasn’t hate that killed Lewis. Local pastor John Shuck hopes that’s the case. Shuck is a member of the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). When he first heard of Lewis’ death, he feared it was a hate crime.

“What was the motivation for this crime,“ Shuck wondered. “Was this based on sexual orientation or perceived?“

Now that police have said Lewis’ death was not the result of a hate crime, Shuck says he can rest a little bit easier.

“If this is not motivated by sexual orientation, real or perceived, I’m relieved,“ Shuck said.

Not everything gets into an interview. "Relieved" is perhaps not the best choice of words. This was a tragic event. A man died from a violent act. We need to be talking about safety in the parking lots of our city's nightclubs.

Here are points that I want to make sure are made:
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities expresses its deepest sympathy to the family of James Lewis.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities expresses concern on behalf of the LGBT community of the Tri-Cities for this crime and for their safety.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities encourages those who know anything about this to contact police.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities encourages folks to contact Tennessee Equality Project whenever a crime might be related to sexual orientation, whether sexual orientation is real or perceived.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities is committed to working with police to make our area safe for all people including our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities encourages the community to be in conversation about safety at nightclubs including New Beginnings.
  • PFLAG Tri-Cities meets on the third Thursdays at 7 p.m. at ETSU, room #315 Warf-Pickel.
Details about this incident are still unclear. Perhaps more information will be forthcoming from both the police and others who were at the nightclub.

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