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Attacked in St.
Martin

Attacked in St.
Martin

Dick_jefferson

Gay CBS Evening News producer Dick Jefferson talks with The Advocate about being gay-bashed on the Caribbean island of St. Martin and how he is going back to tell authorities how he feels about it

In the early hours of April 6, gay CBS Evening News producer Dick Jefferson and out 48 Hours staffer Ryan Smith were attacked in an apparent gay bashing on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. Smith and his boyfriend, Justin Swensen, were taunted by a group of men inside Bamboo Bernie's nightclub, after which Smith, Swensen, and Jefferson were attacked by a man with a tire iron outside. Smith is still recovering at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. Jefferson spoke with The Advocate before returning to the island to file an official statement with local authorities, whom he and others have accused of dragging their feet.

How are you holding up?I'm sort of in crisis mode now. I've just been focusing on getting the story out there and, of course, on Ryan's recovery. Once it's settled down, I'll have a very long cry.

What injuries did you suffer? I had a skull fracture---they had to suck fragments of my skull out and put a quarter-size piece of titanium in my head. My CAT scans are good, but I have a real nasty scar and I'll have to take antiseizure medicine for a long time to come.

How is Ryan? He's awake, but we're trying to get him to communicate and it's really difficult. He'll start a sentence and then just sort of repeat himself. We're trying to get him to write things. It's depressing.

You weren't there for the initial altercation at Bamboo Bernie's. Do you know what set the assailants off? Justin was at the bar, telling Ryan about his cousin who died recently. I think they hugged. Some of the local guys started making fun, calling him a [faggot]. Justin asked what the problem was and this guy dragged a chair out like he was going to hit him with it. The bar kicked the guys out, but they waited for Justin and the guys to leave. By that point I had joined up with the group. I can't think of anything that Justin or Ryan would have said or done that would make anyone that mad. Honestly, I feel like I have to keep justifying Justin and Ryan's behavior to the press, and I'm tired of being asked if there was any provocation. It's kind of offensive.

Can you tell us a little more about what happened outside the bar? I was coming from the casino to meet Ryan and our friends, and I saw people throwing things at them. They tried to run us over, and Justin had to literally walk on top of their car to avoid being hit. A guy got out of the car with a tire iron and I remember thinking, What in the hell is going on? Then he whacked me on the head with it. Ryan was coming to see if I was OK, and they got him too. The next thing I remember was holding my head, bleeding profusely, and then waking up in the hospital.

What was going through your mind during the attack? I didn't really have time to think. I never thought he'd hit me, just threaten me. I'm a journalist. I've been in bad situations before. Nobody hits first and asks questions later, but this guy did.

Do you think the apparent inaction by police in response to the crime is a sign of homophobia, negligence, or something else? It's beyond negligence; it's beyond dropping the ball. An officer came by but didn't take a statement. He didn't even write down the license plate number, which witnesses had gotten. When I called a few hours after the attack, the police said they didn't even have a report. Two days after the attack, the head of tourism called to say she was taking over the investigation. I asked her if she knew what she was saying about St. Martin's police department. She said, "I know what I'm saying about our police department. That's why I'm taking over; that's why I called the lieutenant governor."

Would this story have gotten the kind of attention it has if you weren't a member of the press?I'm lucky I work for CBS. I mean, if enough channels cover it, it may pop up in the next presidential news conference. It's insane that American citizens can go on vacation and be assaulted like this. I think the case was turned over to a special prosecutor because of who I am. If it wasn't me, it would've been swept under the rug. If I wasn't a senior producer at CBS and if I hadn't made calls to my contacts in the media, it probably still wouldn't be going anywhere.

You've been traveling to St. Martin for 15 years. Do you think this was an isolated incident or a sign of a larger problem? I never had a problem before, but the gays I know down there are pretty scared, especially on the Dutch part of the island. There's a very thriving gay scene on the French side, but gays in St. Martin just aren't out. My best friend there is totally in the closet.

Aside from your attackers being brought to justice, what sort of resolution are you hoping for? I want to know why these guys were so mad. I'm going back this week to sort of ask that question. And to remind people of St. Martin that the justice system is there for their protection, not just mine. Hopefully, this incident will shed a light on the problems with the local police force and spur the government to make some big changes. There was a big editorial in the Daily Herald down there urging for just that, which is a good sign. But in the short term, I hope American tourism companies think twice about letting passengers off in St. Martin. I would also tell the gay community to steer clear of the Caribbean for now. There have been a disturbing number of incidents in the area.

After you file your statement, will you ever return to St Martin?No. I've made a lot of local friends and I have no beef with the island, but you can't feel safe again after something like this.

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