Immokalee Gang's Assault on Gay Men Sparks Hate Crime Probe
|via Google Streetview|
|The scene of the crime in Immokalee|
Manuel Galan and Cirildo Soliz -- both young, gay and living in rural Collier County -- were walking in the center of Immokalee recently when a car pulled up and someone yelled, "Fucking fags!" Five or six young men jumped out and beat Galan and Soliz bloody while yelling homophobic slurs, police say, before speeding away.
Today, Collier County sheriffs tell Riptide they're investigating the assault as a hate crime.
"They just don't like gay people, so they attacked us," the 27-year-old Galan tells the Naples Daily News.
Galan and Soliz, who is 21, are both are openly gay in a county that's not exactly the paragon of tolerance in South Florida.
Eight hate crimes were prosecuted in Collier just last year, the Daily News reports. Ruth Dorfman, a local LGBT activist whose garage door was defaced with swastikas, says gay Collier residents live in fear after such attacks.
"I still get up every morning and look at my garage door and see if anyone has defaced it," Dorfman tells the paper. "It's not something you get over immediately."
Soliz and Galan, who are friends but not partners, were attacked on Sept. 21 in the heart of Immokalee, a farming town known as the center of Florida's tomato growing region.
The group of men jumped them on Carson Road and Eden Avenue around 6:30 in the evening, pummeling them with fists while calling them "fags," police say.
Galan says that a number of passersby saw the attack and ignored their plight.
"It was right in the middle of the street," Galan tells the Daily News. "People were walking all around us. No one stopped. No one did anything. It hurts me, I knew some of the people."
As the assailants piled back into their car, one pointed at Soliz and said, "I'm going to kill you, and I know where you live."
Galan and Soliz say they knew some of the assailants. A Collier County Sheriffs spokeswoman tells Riptide they've arrested two juveniles in connection with the case, but declined to name them because of their age.
In the meantime, they're treating the attack as a hate crime.
"The local state attorney's office will decide whether to prosecute this as a hate crime," Michelle Batton, the department's public information officer, says.
In the meantime, Galan says he's rarely left his house since the attack. "I'm scared to walk out the front door," he says.
Read the police's report on the attack here:Gal an Report Real