A group of LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter activists say men beat them and called them "faggots" in Tribeca on Saturday night, shortly after they left a reception and party for Decolonize This Place, an activism-focused residency at Artists Space on Walker Street.
In the days since, the alleged attack has sparked debate among the activists, several of whom identify as queer, about when it makes sense to file a complaint with the NYPD.
Michael Basillas, 31, a fashion designer from Harlem, says he left the party around midnight on Saturday with about eight other people, all chanting slogans from various activist movements. "We were chanting in front of the place—it was a celebration—everything from Black Lives Matter to Queer Liberation," he recalled.
The group started walking east on Walker Street towards Broadway, intending to get some food, when they say four men on the other side of the street started yelling 'Trump' at them. "They started chanting 'Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump,' so we started chanting, 'Ole, ole, ole, screw Trump, screw Trump,'" Basillas said. He described the group of men as racially mixed, and said they seemed to be rallying behind one man in particular—white, about 5'11", with tattoos and a "Blue Lives Matter" band on his wrist.
The man with the 'Blue Lives Matter' bracelet allegedly punched a member of the group, Connor Hicks, in the face, according to Hicks and multiple witnesses. "They specifically went after the queer people, and queer people of color," said Hicks, who is white.
"I tried to take a swing at him and he ended up hitting me," recalled Colin Ashley, a 36-year-old sociology professor at Hunter College and organizer with People's Power Assemblies. "I had a hold on him while he continued to punch me in the face. Once we hit the ground he was wailing on me and kept punching me in the face."
"It turned into a big brawl," said Peter Soeller, 24, another member of the group. "Most people were focused on pulling the big white guy off of Colin [Ashley]. I'm a skinny guy, and this guy was a hulk. I tried really hard to pull him off, [and the] guy turns around, calls me a faggot, punches me in the face, knocked my glasses off. My nose was pouring blood."
Basillas and Patti Cruz, a 26-year-old social worker, said that the commotion drew about 20 partygoers out into the street. As the fight broke up, they allegedly approached police in a patrol car parked near the scene. "We tried to talk to them [the police], and they told us, 'Step onto the sidewalk.' They didn't take the information," Basillas recalled.
"My friend and I told the officer that our queer, gay friends were attacked by these white supremacists, and he just said, 'We'll patrol the area, why don't you just go back to where you were,'" Cruz said.
Two "activist medics" attending the party came to the group's aide, according to Cruz. Four people were treated for injuries inside the gallery space. Ashley sustained facial swelling and bruising, he said. Hicks said he sustained a swollen jaw, and two welts on his forehead.
The NYPD did not have any record of the incident on Wednesday morning, and declined to comment on whether police had been on the scene that night. "We looked into that incident, we checked 911, we checked the database for any complaints of an assault, and there has been nothing of the sort," a spokesman said.
The alleged victims said that they were not able to capture video or photos of their attackers.
Hicks and Soeller said that they deliberated with the other victims for several days about whether to file a complaint with the police. "Communities that are affected by police violence have a hard time trusting the police when things like this happen," Hicks said. The alleged indifference from officers on the scene deepened their reservations.
"It was a very difficult conversation in the last 24 hours to do something that doesn't align with their activism," Basillas added. By Tuesday, the group had decided that "it would be a challenge for the NYPD to do their job correctly without the information."
But Hicks said that he and Soeller went to the First Precinct around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday and began the complaint filing process, only to back out. "We were open and honest about being activists and the cop was listening, but he really didn't seem that interested," Hicks alleged. He added that he's now hoping to acquire surveillance footage from nearby buildings without NYPD assistance.
Anti-Defamation League Policy Director Etzion Neuer told Gothamist that the scenario was a familiar one, citing "victims' reluctance to deal with the police based on a history of animosity."
"Writ large, the incident highlights that the ability of law enforcement to respond to hate crimes depends on a mutual trust between the law enforcement and the community they serve," he added.
The alleged assault comes in the midst of an uptick in hate incident reports.
Basillas said his group wanted to publicize the story to warn other potential victims. "We want people to understand that they, too, could be susceptible to this violence," he said. "At this point the conversation in the activist scene is prioritizing self-defense."
Ashley added that he was hesitant to blame President-elect Trump, whose campaign featured racist, sexist and homophobic rhetoric, as well as promises to ban and deport minority groups.
"I think the election showed many of us how big these problems still are—racism, sexism, homophobia,'" he said. "But the starting point isn't the election of Donald Trump."