By Paul T. Choate
March 1, 2012. BOONE — On Friday, March 2, the Appalachian State Women’s Center will host “Stop the Hate, Spread the Love,” a public event to increase awareness of sexual orientation-based hate crimes and educate members of the community about the importance of equality. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in Grandfather Ballroom in Plemmons Student Union on the ASU campus.
Erin Johnston and Sarabeth Nordstrom, recent victims of severe physical assault here in Boone, are scheduled to be speakers at the event. A booth will be set up by TransACTION, the transgender and transsexual community on campus, The LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender) Center and others helping to raise awareness for their causes.
The Women’s Center wanted to get this event organized soon after the attack happened. “We tried to deal with this as quickly as we could because we don’t want to lose momentum,” said Susan Mackey, ASU Women’s Center volunteer and committee member for Hate Crimes Awareness. “This needs to be dealt with and addressed as soon after the assault as possible.”
“We have students — mostly in The Women’s Center but also in The LGBT Center — but a lot of students in The Women’s Center who were really moved by what they heard happened. They took the initiative to pull together a couple of different events to raise awareness … and to help the two victims,” said Suzette Patterson, assistant director for Gender Education and faculty supervisor of The Women’s Center and The LGBT Center.
“I think a lot of people in the community and on the campus were hearing about the hate crime and it probably upset a lot of people. I think they need a time and place to respond to it and learn what they can do to prevent things like that from happening in the future,” said Sara Beeken, ASU Women’s Center volunteer and committee chairwoman for Hate Crime Awareness.
Johnston, a junior at ASU, and Nordstrom are openly gay and want to raise awareness to hate crimes — a term that, by current North Carolina law, does not apply to their assaults. The state of North Carolina does not recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation. There have been bills submitted to change this but none have ever passed. Johnston and Nordstrom have started the “Amend NC Hate Crimes” petition. The petition was started on Feb. 19, according to Mackey, and it currently has 6,377 signatures. The goal for petitions is 10,000 signatures.
“They’re both lesbians and that is why they were attacked. We know that because homophobic slurs were yelled at them before the attack,” said Mackey. She also added that they are not a couple.
According to Beeken, there will be two additional speakers along with Johnston and Nordstrom. Sean Kosofsky, a representative of Equality NC, will be there to speak about the need for change in North Carolina legislature in regards to what defines a “hate crime.” J.J. Brown, ASU Dean of Students, will also speak at the event regarding how the assault has affected the student body as a whole.
Beeken also said there will be live music performances at the event from several individuals and groups — all students. Scheduled to perform are: Carly Taich, Ian Lorhman, Ryan Mckusick and Cici Kromah, all playing acoustic guitar, and two a cappella groups — Lost in Sound and Enharmonix.
“I think really the goal for the event is that it will be a hopeful event and it will be one for awareness about the laws in North Carolina,” said Mackey. “[The law] needs to change because we need to prosecute [Johnston and Nordstrom’s attacker] to the fullest extent. What he did was really vicious and horrible.”
Despite the North Carolina law, federal law does define crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity as hate crimes, as per the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by President Obama in October of 2009.
The FBI collects data on and investigates all bias crimes. Additionally, anyone who is the victim of a hate crime should report it to the FBI.
Background on the assault
On Feb. 11, 2012, Johnston and Nordstrom were at Cook-Out in Boone when they were verbally harassed by a man and two women. The harassment stemmed from Johnston and Nordstrom’s perceived sexual orientation based on slurs allegedly being shouted at the two women.
Johnston and Nordstrom were followed to Brown Heights Apartments and subsequently attacked by the male after they exited their car. Nordstrom was hit repeatedly in the face and when Johnston attempted to call police she was hit from behind and knocked down. The attacker then proceeded to kick and stomp on her repeatedly. Johnston suffered two fractured ribs, a torn meniscus, bleeding in her jaw and torn cartilage in her nose. Nordstrom suffered even more extensive injuries, including a broken eye socket, broken nasal cavity and broken cheekbone. Both women were taken by ambulance to Watauga Medical Center to receive treatment.
The attacker, Ketoine Jamahl Mitchell, 19, of Lenoir, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault while inflicting serious injury, aggravated assault on a female and larceny. He was issued a $6,000 secured bond and released upon payment. He is scheduled to appear in court April 17. On Feb. 29, a second person was arrested. Brooklyn Lacrossa Canter, 18, of Zionville, turned herself in to Boone Police and was charged with one misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting. Canter’s charge is based on the allegation that she yelled obscenities at the women and drove the car that followed the women to the site of the attack. She then transported the suspect, Ketoine Mitchell, away from the scene. She was issued a $1,000 unsecured bond and is scheduled to appear in court on April 17.
The High Country Press will attend the event tomorrow night. Photos and video will be taken and posted on our website after the event concludes.
Page Last Updated: 7:05 p.m. March 1, 2012