Monday, March 24, 2014

Street Harassment Victims Speak Out

Musician/singer Taylor LaValley also shared her experience as a target of harassment at the Hollaback! Plattsburgh fundraiser held at Koffee Kat.

(C) 2014  Luke T. Bush


So you're walking down the street and someone yells a slur at you like faggot.  What's the big deal?  It's just name calling.  Street harassment doesn't get out of hand.

Don't tell that to Chris Rigsbee, the target of verbal harassment that escalated into gang assault.  Chris suffered serious injuries from a brutal beating by six men in 2010.

He spoke at the Hollaback! Plattsburgh fundraiser held at the Koffee Kat coffeehouse Saturday evening.  Hollaback! is a national organization dedicated to ending street harassment.  Activist Matt Hall is creating a local group to deal with the problem in Plattsburgh City.

While featuring music and poetry the event also provided an opportunity for harassment targets to publicly share their experiences.

The first speaker, Sarah Mundy, was also one of the performers.  She said she was on the way to the event when some guy shouted something at her from a car.

A short walk from her apartment to the Koffee Kat couldn't be free of street harassment.  Ironically her story proved how it often it occurs in such a nice community like Plattsburgh.

When Sarah asked the audience if anyone had experienced such harassment almost every hand in the crowded room was raised.

One man stepped on the small stage and talked about how he didn't have a car but instead drove a scooter.  Because of his transportation mode guys in trucks yelled homophobic things at him.

More irony.  A city that elected an openly gay mayor and homophobia is still prevalent.

Among the stories shared a woman talked about a man grabbing her butt outside a downtown bar.  The man wanted her to slap him.  She declined.

Another speaker was Kaitlyn Donovan who said harassment is not limited to the street, it can happen anywhere: at work, at home, in school.

She said:

"By letting those people yell at us... it's giving them the message that it's OK to treat your fellow classmates, your co-workers, or your family that way.  So I'm hollering back, saying its not OK."

When Matt Hall was interviewed previously to the fundraiser he stated that such a culture has to change because when harassment is allowed or ignored it can lead to violent acts.

The last speaker was Chris Rigsbee who shared what happened to him one night back in November 2010.  He and his girlfriend at the time were returning home, walking down a Broad Street sidewalk when some men on a porch started a confrontation.  As mentioned in a previous article at this blog Chris was called a faggot apparently because he was wearing a rainbow design on his cap.

Chris said told the men there was no need for that.

He continued his story:

"So, of course, that immediately escalated into three men punching me, sending my [eyeglasses] flying into the grass.  I was immediately blinded.

"The three men turned into six men from the porch.  It was repetitive.  Eventually I was on the ground, they were kicking me, beating me, and eventually it escalated to the point when a young gentleman from this house grabbed the back of my head, pulled on my hair, and repeatedly bashed my head into the sidewalk, making me lose three teeth."

Chris pointed to his mouth.

"These bottom teeth here.  Every morning I have the pleasure of waking up and brushing invisible teeth.  I have fake teeth."

As difficult it was for Chris to recall and share his story he pressed on, the strain evident in his voice.

"I have a great life now, I have a very supportive girlfriend, a wonderful family that supports me.  There will be not one single day that I don't remember the assault, the violence, the inhumanity I went through, the humiliation, the anger that I felt, and the guilt for even fucking wanting to live and be a good person because what the fuck is the point if you can't just walk down the street and just mind your own business?"

Chris mentioned how the judicial system failed to render justice with his case.

As I've reported before, only one of the attackers was charged, not with a felony but with a misdemeanor reduced to a violation, disorderly conduct.  Basically the psychotic thug got off with the equivalent of a parking ticket for repeatedly slamming Chris's head into the sidewalk.

Chris thanked his friends and family for their support during the aftermath of the beating.

He concluded by addressing the event participants and organizers:

"I've been through the wringer, so there's part of me that feels we're preaching to the choir, that is sad, but I love every one of you, and the shining knight that is in my heart wishes us to keep moving forward and make this world a better place so that people don't have to experience such terrible tragedies.  I wish you guys the best of luck.  Thanks."

For more information about Hollaback! Plattsburgh you can email Matt Hall -  - or call (518) 310-0659.

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