They call themselves “Safety In Numbers”, or “The S.I.N. Patrol.” The volunteer group’s primary function is to provide protection on the streets and sidewalks outside of Salt Lake City’s gay nightclubs.
Beatings of gay men in Utah have made headlines in recent months. Most notably Dane Hall, who was assaulted outside of Club Sound in the early morning hours of August 26th. No suspects have been named or arrested in the incident.
In weeks since, fear has persisted within Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities.
“There’s been a lot of people complaining there’s not enough police coverage or security in the clubs,” said Joshua Barnes who started S.I.N. “The police do a good job, but they can’t be everywhere. We thought rather than just complain, we’d just do something. And the simplest thing we could do is just be here. Be an extra set of eyes, an extra body.”
The organization has over 140 members who connect through Facebook, go out in small groups and keep a blog of their activities. Most are gay men in their 20′s like Chris Deuel.
“I was looking for ways to give back to the community and I like that this was a sensible way to prevent a major problem,” Deuel said.
A typical night for S.I.N. starts with something resembling a small party. They meet at a member’s home. There’s music, laughter, and decisions about what to wear.
“We dress up just to draw attention away from other people, we can handle it better than they can,” said Deuel.
In a matter of moments the men transform into what looks like a cast of discarded Disney characters. One guy looks like an overgrown leprechaun, one squeezes into a black and white leotard, and another emerges from the bathroom wearing an ugly green dress with shoulder pads. Joshua dons thigh high boots, shorts, a robe, and a headdress. Someone asked why he was wearing so many belts. “In case all this fashion busts loose” he joked. As he shows off his ensemble, he points out an accessory. “A little pepper spray just in case.” Then it’s off to the clubs.
In sharp contrast to the colorful costumes of the S.I.N. Patrol, the streets in the vicinity of 200 South and 600 West are dimly lit. Gay bars have dotted the landscape in this part of Salt Lake City for decades. By day it’s an industrial area with a bus depot and trains criss-crossing the blocks. At night, only the clubs are open. Most of them have no parking lots, requiring patrons to walk a block or more to their destinations on busy nights.
Joshua talked about the first time he came here. “I drove up from Provo, looked around, drove around the block a few times, and I turned around and went home. It was too scary.” He hopes to make the experience less intimidating for others.
“We volunteer every Friday and we just walk people to their cars that are alone. It’s the only night of the week really for 18 year olds and up to come and find out who they are and express that,” Deuel said.
Dane Hall was 20 years old at the time of his attack. And Dane’s incident, Chris said, wasn’t the only one.
“We’ve gone, like, six weeks in a row with something that’s happened in this area. Two weeks ago there was a fight between two girls. The week before someone got hurt going down that way. That was one that wasn’t reported,” he said.
To document after-hour happenings, patrol members carry cell phones. On September 23rd, an encounter with one angry individual was captured on video via phone and posted on YouTube. In the clip, a man stands face to face with S.I.N. members and can be heard shouting, ”I would never disgrace my family wearing a dress!” A member of the patrol responds “My mother loves it!” A security guard from Club Sound intervenes in the nick of time just as the confrontation looks to be turning physical. On that night, Club Sound hosted a rock concert in addition to their regular eighteen and over gay night. Inside, massive rooms divided the crowds, but outside the different demographics mixed.
Riley Welsh, the S.I.N. member seen in the video seen staring down the angry man down and getting a shove recalled, ”Just seems like he had a lot of anger that he wanted to get out.”
This is reminiscent of what Dane Hall said in his first interview with Fox 13 News. When asked if he though he was the victim of a hate crime, Hall responded “I think it could have been gay bashing but personally, I think it was four guys drunk and angry and just wanted to fight.”
Statistically, Salt Lake isn’t a particularly violent city. During our interviews, members of the S.I.N. Patrol acknowledged this, noting that Salt Lake on the whole is ”fairly gay-friendly”. But, Chris added, “This area has been a hot spot lately.”
With a camera rolling, we soon saw exactly what he was talking about. Our crew was mid-interview with Joshua Barnes, walking the block between Club Sound and another gay bar, the Trapp, when it happened. Yards ahead, one man struck another. We caught up to Jake Culley, holding his hand to his cheek. “That guy just came up and punched me in the face.” he told us. And it wasn’t over. A few people on the sidewalk, including S.I.N. Patrol volunteers, stood their ground as the suspect came back without saying a word and started swinging at them. Fortunately, his punches weren’t connecting very well. Joshua advanced upon the suspect and took him down in a headlock. “The harder you move the harder I’m gonna squeeze. Did you hear me?” he said to the man on the ground.
One member of the patrol called 9-1-1, while others assisted in disarming the suspect of a knife tucked in his clothing.
Minutes later police arrived, but the suspect wasn’t done fighting. As officers lifted him from the ground he kicked them, leaving a small mark on one’s face. As three uniformed officers moved the still-struggling suspect to a squad car, S.I.N. member Riley, dressed in a tank top and skirt, assisted. “I was just nervous at that point that it wasn’t gonna be ok so I just decided to jump in.”
Richard Daniel Martinez was booked into jail on charges of assault, resisting an officer, and assault by a prisoner.
Lt. Bryce Johnson of the Salt Lake City Police Department explained on scene that Martinez would not be charged with a hate crime because it was unclear what motivated the attack, or if he knew anything about his targets.
With the night winding down Joshua remarked, “It would be great if we got to a point where things settled down.. I’d be happy if we didn’t have to do this ever…but we’ll do it as long as we need to.”