Just over a year ago, a young gay man by the name of Joshua Shuck joined some friends at the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival on a whim. It was late, things were getting a bit rowdy and people were drunk.
Some were very drunk.
Marc Handley was one of those drunk people and he, according to witnesses, began hitting on one of the girls in Joshua’s group. The more the girl said, “thanks, but no thanks,” the more Handley tried to sweet-talk her to his place, she told me not long after that night.
She asked for her friends to get her out of the situation.
Joshua told Handley to leave her alone.
I met Joshua several days after that night. While he is about six feet tall, he has a soft, angelic face and a demeanor to match. He appears young for his 23 years and is very shy and reserved. It would be obvious to most, even most drunk people, that he is a lover, not a fighter.
So, drunk Mr. Handley apparently determines that he isn’t going to take that from a nelly boy and body slams him to the ground. According to witnesses, Handley calls him “faggot” this and “faggot” that and, as Joshua gets back up, Handley lifts him and throws him head-first to the pavement, shattering two vertebrae.
His friend, the girl earlier hit on, began yelling to passersby that a “gay-bashing” was going on and people in the crowd came to Joshua’s aid — to the point Handley himself ends up in the same hospital Joshua is taken to.
One television station — KUTV — and one newspaper — QSaltLake — reported on the assault. And there it lies.
Coverage is over, few took notice.
Not one gay group approached Joshua to see if he had any needs, to see if he would press charges, to get the whole story and determine if an outcry is called for. In fact, other than friends and family, Joshua told me I was the only person in the gay community to talk to him about the incident at all. I talked to him several times over the past year to tell him what was going on — or more correctly what was not going on — with his case.
So, here we are a year later. Handley pleads down to two misdemeanors to avoid a trial. One newspaper showed up to cover the trial — QSaltLake. No television news, no gay activists, no concerned police officers.
And now, we move to sentencing.
Utah’s hate crime law is a penalty enhancement statute. In sentencing, a judge may use the fact that the crime was hate-related in determining what level of punishment is appropriate.
“The sentencing judge or the Board of Pardons and Parole shall consider in their deliberations as an aggravating factor the public harm resulting from the commission of the offense, including the degree to which the offense is likely to incite community unrest or cause members of the community to reasonably fear for their physical safety or to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution or laws of the state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
Joshua has a problem here. Since there was absolutely no reaction to the crime against him, it is likely an uphill battle to prove “public harm” or that a mere slap on the wrist would “incite community unrest.” How can his lawyers say that gay and lesbian people would “fear for their physical safety” if not one group, one activist, one concerned police officer stepped up to publicly say, “Hey, this guy is a victim of a gay bashing and this gay basher should be taught a lesson.”
Joshua is reminded every day that Handley pummeled his head into the pavement. To look left or right he must turn his entire upper body — his neck no longer does that. He has difficulty getting to sleep because of the pain.
Our community, however, forgot about the assault within a few days of it happening. We went merrily on holding wine and cheese parties, elaborate dinners and panel discussions. We tell people to come out of the closet and live their lives openly, yet we provide no resources for when the worst happens because of it. We have no victim services, no shelter for discarded youth, no legal advisers.
How many more Joshua Shucks are out there whom we have failed?