A brutal assault outside an Allentown pizzeria early Saturday morning is sparking concern as a possible hate crime, after two gay men were called derogatory names by a group of unidentified males and one was abruptly punched in the face.
Mike Slater of Buffalo suffered bruising and a cut above his right eye from the attack, which occurred at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, as he and a male friend turned from Allen Street onto Elmwood Avenue just past the pizzeria.
A witness who was also punched got two stitches after his lip was split open.
The gang fled immediately after the attack. Both Slater and the witness filed police reports.
Slater, 21, and his roommate, Raven Hillyard, said they chose to go public with the incident, including on Facebook, to help shed light on what happened and bring the perpetrators to justice, rather than letting the assault pass.
Hillyard, 24, said it's not the first incident of violence or harassment around that intersection recently. "We made the post so that people would be aware that there are some increasingly violent crimes happening in that area the last couple of weeks," she said.
She said the owner of the pizzeria told her that the same group of males had been "hanging out" in the area for the last few weekends, harassing women and other restaurant patrons, and even stealing a kid's phone.
"It's been a recurring thing," she said. The pizzeria owner could not be reached for comment.
Slater and the witness – who would only give his first name, Jason, because he feared for his own safety – said they did not know each other, although they discovered they have mutual friends. Both separately said they had never experienced such trouble before.
The incident started as Slater, a Cuba, N.Y., native who recently moved into the city, left a bar in the 200 block of Allen Street and then saw his friend on the street. They decided to head to his friend's house nearby to hang out.
As they passed four men lingering outside the pizzeria, including one wearing a blue hoodie, Slater said hello and heard one of them mutter an anti-gay slur. "It went sour really quick," Slater said.
As he looked at his friend and told him to keep walking, Slater was attacked from behind by the man in the hoodie. "All of a sudden, I got decked in the face," Slater said. "There was blood all over my hands and neck."
His friend was "shoved pretty hard," Hillyard said, and pushed to the ground.
Slater and his friend got up and ran to the friend's apartment. "I'm still in shock from the whole thing," Slater said. "I have a really bad black eye. Last night was the first time I could really see. Today it's better, but it still hurts."
Meanwhile, 25-year-old Jason, of Newfane, was walking with another friend behind Slater when the attack unfolded before them. He happened to have his cellphone in his hand, but when the gang turned and saw him "with my phone out, they attacked me and punched me in the face, too."
"I got punched for being a witness, I guess," he said, adding that the man in the hoodie asked whom he was calling, even though he wasn't calling anyone. "It happened so quickly."
The group immediately ran away. Jason and his friend walked back to their car, and then flagged down a police officer at the corner of Allen and Elmwood.
Slater said that when he filed his report with police, officers "seemed familiar" with the man in the hoodie. He described his attacker as dark-skinned, about 5'9'' tall.
Buffalo police ask anyone with information about the attacks to call the Confidential TIP-CALL Line at 847-2255.