Hate in NYC & Chestertown


Big city. Little village. A bus driver in New York City near Columbia University beckoned to a man running on the street whom he had just seen bludgeoned in the head to hurry and get on to his bus. He wanted to help him escape his attacker, a huge man who reportedly chased the bus and continued to harass the victim when he got off the bus two blocks later.

The victim, who has since been cleared by paramedics, is Ben Chang, spokesperson for Columbia University and a former diplomat and very popular Washington DJ who is more often than not spinning tunes at the home of British Ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce on New Year’s Eve. Ben is one of the brightest lights, and most generously spirited individuals I’ve ever known. According to his wife, Ashley Chang, a senior communications officer at the Rockefeller Foundation, the assailant hit Ben in the head with a metal water bottle and yelled at Ben to go back to his country. Ben’s country by the way is the United States of America. Ben has filed a police report, and with CCTV covering the incident zone from a few buildings, police reportedly think they will catch the person who assaulted Ben physically and verbally.

Ben and his wife are close friends, but that’s not why I am posting this. What happened to Ben, much like what happened to another friend Chuck Johnson, President of the Aluminum Association, is a hate crime — and needs to be called out and the perpetrators held to account. The DC police did not catch the thugs who broke Chuck Johnson’s jaw, but perhaps the New York story and Ben Chang’s experience will be different.

While hate crimes and intimidation and harassment occur all around the country — my own experience with this has been limited, until a surge of incidents recently, including a private one that I’ll save for another day. In Chestertown, Maryland — a sleepy old Colonial village on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — a group of four young men, two underage, and two of adult age, allegedly vandalized and stole a number of LGBTQ+ month-celebrating “Pride Flags” hanging in front of people’s homes.

At first, it was a straight couple who reported their flag stolen. They live on Cannon Street. Then another straight couple, allies of the LGBTQ+ community, on High Street reported that their flag had been ripped off the front of their home. Then Ben Gerrard, who has been quite public about the assault on his property and theft of a pride flag, sent me and many who live on Water Street in Chestertown news of the incident. And then he sent photos of the four alleged vandals and their car which helped the Chestertown police track them down. They were not from the area, and reportedly the parent who owns the car said something along the lines of “boys will be boys.”

And then the Chestertown Police earned huge community applause for identifying the incident as “hate” in this statement:

Over the weekend, several locations in town were victims of crimes related to Pride flags and related items. Our Officers have been working diligently on these incidents and have identified numerous suspects, who are not local to the area. Appropriate charges will be forthcoming. We want everyone to know that this type of hate will not be tolerated in Chestertown.

Chestertown Police, Facebook post, 17 June 2024

Let’s be clear, “boys” or “girls” — or anyone given such license and leeway to harm others cavalierly — will become assailants and vandals and criminals who propagate hate if they aren’t taught not to. Some people don’t know better. They need to learn. But in these respective cases of hate unleashed and violating the rights of Ben Chang and those displaying gay pride flags in Chestertown, perhaps justice will have a chance.

And I wish I had the name of that bus driver. Note to the bus driver who saved Ben Chang: You are a hero. Thank you. And to the Chestertown Police. Thanks for doing the right thing.

— Steve Clemons


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