Like many, I was outraged after the news broke last week regarding the horrible hate crime and attack perpetrated against “Empire” actor, Jussie Smollett. This anger, and the memory that triggered it, compelled me to tell my truth about an experience I had in the fall of 2004.
It was a typical early morning. I got up and got ready for work and proceeded to take my dog, Pierre, for a walk before truly starting my day. As I walked my dog down the block, I got a strong feeling I was being followed. Suddenly, I turned around and recognized the man who was following me.
I realized that this man was actually someone I had seen in my neighborhood before, so I was shocked in that moment when, out of no where, he started hurling homophobic names and profanity at me. I ignored him and kept walking, but he only moved faster until he was standing right behind me. What I felt next was the pulsating sting of a punch from behind landing right on my neck.
I immediately went into protection mode and got my dog out of harm’s way. I turned around and we starting fighting. My heart was racing a mile a minute. Everything was happening so quickly. I remember defending myself as he threw swift and hard punches at me. This all began on the sidewalk, but within minutes we were brawling in the street.
As we fought, he kept calling me “fa**ot,” “bitch ass ni**a,” “punk ass,” screaming at the top of his lungs. My adrenaline increased with each hateful word he uttered and at that point, I just lunged at him with every ounce of strength I had left. His response, in turn, was to reach into his back pocket for a knife.
This is the part that’s most difficult for me to talk about. My attacker stabbed me in my stomach, and then fled, leaving me to die in the street. I was disoriented, numb, bleeding and feeling completely violated. I had been attacked, and knifed, while hearing words of vitriol used to describe me. It wasn’t just a mugging, it was a hate crime performed by a person overcome by ignorance and disgust.
I went into survival mode, holding my wound to stop the flow of blood. Despite the group of men who stood at the corner watching the entire scene play out, and who did nothing, my faith in humanity wasn’t completely destroyed that morning. A good samaritan came to my rescue, and called 9-1-1. He took my dog and assured me that Pierre would be in a good place and stayed with me until the police and paramedics arrived.
Becoming a Self Advocate
It was a long ER visit that involved treatment and stitches, but eventually I was cleared to go home. My main concern now was healing physically, mentally and emotionally, but also, getting this S.O.B. who did this to me.
Almost a week after my attack, a detective paid me a visit at home with a black binder that contained over 50 mug shots for me to review in hopes that I could identify the man who attacked me, but his face never appeared. I already knew that this man lived close by, which added to my anxiety, not to mention I was also seeing him in my sleep. As the detective left that day, I just kept thinking, I’m a Black, gay man, who felt neither protected nor served, after that meeting.
Then, two weeks later, on my way home from work, I saw him. I spotted my own attacker very boldly walking down the street in the neighborhood as if he had not one care in the world. As a crime victim, the police gave me a case number and told me to call 9-1-1 if I should ever see him again. I did, and much to my surprise, the police came quickly enough to apprehend him. I had essentially caught the man who attacked me.
Charges were filed by the district attorney and I felt very hopeful about my case. Hate crime legislation was new back then, so there was only a slight possibility that he would be charged and go away for a long time.
I didn’t realize how emotional it would be to go through a trial. I walked down the corridor of the court house and saw my attacker sitting on a bench, waiting to go inside the courtroom. Again, I was amazed at his ease, sitting back and reading a newspaper, not even interested in acknowledging me or what he had done to me. We were the first case to appear before the judge, who asked me to share what happened that morning. I held back the tears, the anger, the disgust and the pain and pushed through to tell this horrific story. The judge listened and then turned his attention to my attacker.
I remember him saying, “Mr. Artis was minding his own business walking his dog and ready to go off to work like he normally does; you, however, were drugging and drinking all night long. You saw Mr. Artis and the drugs gave you the courage to act on whatever insecurities you had at the time. You punched Mr. Artis for no reason, he started protecting himself and his dog, and at some point, he overpowered you. At that point, like a coward, you pulled out a knife and stabbed him.”
I’m grateful to say that my attacker was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison.
Shining a Light on Hate
I am Jussie Smollett and Jussie Smollett is me. He was living his life about to grab a sandwich at a Subway, not hurting a single soul. He stated that he was attacked by men in MAGA caps, who obviously were planning to use that noose and bleach to hurt, embarrass and break someone they perceived as a threat to their idea of what makes America truly great.
As you read this, know that I’ve never told this story out loud, until now. Maybe because, so many people know me as a strong and positive person, and deep down, I was humiliated that this happened to me. Maybe, I’ve never talked about it because I knew so many others who weren’t as “lucky” as I am to have survived a homophobic attack. One thing is for sure, I draw my strength by constantly recalling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote,“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”
And so. I shine a light on that moment and hope that it inspires others to tell and illuminate their stories.
To my LGBTQ family, I beseech you all to stay strong in who you are, walk in your truth and know that even though we are hated in this world by some, we are a proud people who can and will fight back. If a similar story has happened to you, please know that it is not your fault. First and foremost take care of yourself, seek professional help and support from friends and family who truly love you. And above all, know that you are a beautiful creation of God.
Troy Artis, is a video journalist, host, influencer. You can find him creating great content for the digital world @StylishMaven.