“We are fortunate enough to live in a country where all people are protected against crimes based upon their race or sexual orientation. That’s a blessing because everyone in this world doesn’t have that privilege and right. I think that is sad and unfortunate that someone would misuse that right and play this card that they have been gay-bashed or been attacked and then call someone a homophobe. I’m also disappointed in the community, in particular certain members of the LGBT community, who have not done their due diligence to make sure that if someone is saying this – that what they’re saying is true. In particular, that [openly-gay] Councilman [Corey Johnson] in that area who said so many horrible things about me to his constituents. I don’t understand why he would call me a homophobe.”
That statement is how New York HIV/AIDS counselor and ballroom community leader Bayna-Lehkiem El-Amin described his most stressful moment as racist gay media blogs and writers and New York gay politicians manipulated mainstream media, NYPD and a more-divided gay community by selfishly sensationalizing a story around a Manhattan restaurant scuffle that took place on May 5, 2015.
El-Amin, an African-American native of Detroit – born of Egyptian and Samoan heritages – and nine-year resident of New York City, is the publicly shamed subject of racist gay media-spun allegations that he viciously attacked John Varvatos employee Jonathan Snipes and his boyfriend in a homophobic and racist rage inside a Dallas BBQ restaurant in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. Such loose reporting caught the attention of national media who later identified El-Amin a week after the fiasco and inspired gay politicians, Senator Brad Hoylman and Councilman Corey Johnson, to orchestrate a street rally against gay hate crimes without official evidence or police confirmation that a homophobic crime was committed or verification that Snipes’ interview with Aidan Gardiner of DNAInfo was an honest account of what happened.
After I challenged the racist gay media reporting on the incident as sensationalized, victimizing gossip to protect a self-proclaim “hot head (Snipes’ self-description),” racist comments flooded my social media platforms as if I am not supposed to demonize Snipes, the way he demonized El-Amin, by suspiciously running to the media within hours of the fight, instead of contacting NYPD, when he alluded that he was attacked because of his race and sexuality. If I were a privileged white gay male and felt that I was assaulted because of my ethnicity and sexual orientation, I would waste no time going to NYPD law enforcement and get a big Black aggressor locked up since that police organization is well-known for quickly policing and profiling Black men before verifying their innocence. Remember Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zongo, Kenneth Chamberlain (of White Plains), and countless of Black men whose unnecessary run-ins with NYPD whose stories did not garner mainstream media attention. Also, Snipes’ accounts to DNAInfo did not detail how the fight unraveled to the final 90-seconds of the scuffle that was recorded by a Dallas BBQ patron and uploaded to YouTube to go viral.
Despite all the threatening and racist messages online bullies posted on my social media platforms, I refused to be silent as a Black man who regularly fears that I could be in El-Amin’s shoes – or worse, in Eric Garner’s shoes (remember “I Can’t Breathe”) – and be the victim-turned-criminal in a situation against less-melanin law enforcement officers for defending myself from a crime or submitting to NYPD should they summon me. Did I mention how often I was tagged onto NYPD’s social media accounts by Snipes’ supporters? Did I mention how my address, telephone number and e-mail addresses were posted in the comments section of gay blogs? Did I mention how the aforementioned never put an ounce of fear into me from speaking out against the injustice I witnessed?
I never met El-Amin and had no idea who he was until this incident and doing my own personal investigation that the racist gay media and writers chose to overlook to incite reaction of a self-victimized gay community among their readers, especially impressionable Black gay people who selectively forget the routine racism within their local gay communities, media and organizations until they become victims of racism or homophobic and cry for attention — of which I call the Uncle Ruckus syndrome. I chose to speak out in his defense because I believe in the popular saying, “be the change you want to see.” I refuse to be another Black gay social media activist and complain on my Facebook wall and groups and not publicly target the racist gay media when I know how to use a platform to challenge them. I also believe that the gay community at-large can never expect equality from mainstream society when equality is not exercised within the gay community. Thus, I wrote my blog post.
Since my blog post, friends who ate dinner with El-Amin at Dallas BBQ reached out to me to give their accounts. I took in their information but declined to post their accounts because I felt the most important testimony had to come from El-Amin. His friends connected us over the phone. Though El-Amin and I talked about conducting an interview for his side of the story to be told, I informed him that I am mainly concerned about his well-being and how he is handling this ordeal. My heart was so heavy for him that I talked with him like he was a kin or a friend who needed another shoulder to lean on. I even suggested that if he does turn himself into the authorities and is arrested that he should press charges against Snipes so that Snipes will be either forced to come clean about his shenanigans and/or allow the Dallas BBQ video footage be the evidence to clear El-Amin’s name.
As expected, El-Amin’s last few weeks have been stressful and worrisome. His safety was jeopardized such that he has to take a temporary residence in a friend’s home outside of his neighborhood. His family, especially his elderly mother who suffers from heart problems, have been harassed by NYPD and Snipes’ supporters. El-Amin sought guidance around-the-clock from his legal adviser as evidence and statements from witnesses are slowly collected. His glimmer of hope stems from the announcement of the Dallas BBQ restaurant video footage, confirmed by lead NYPD investigator Officer Snyder (sp), that should implicate Snipes as the aggressor of the highly-publicized scuffle and wholly negate Snipes’ story given to DNAInfo instead of to the NYPD (conveniently). I was informed that the officer confirmed to El-Amin’s closest kin that Snipes started the fight but is now not cooperating with his legal counsel in regards of making the tape viewable to them. I could only wonder if Snipes, Councilman Johnson or Senator Hoylman are working with NYPD to destroy the evidence that would exonerate El-Amin. Since President Obama’s time in the White House, which began in 2009, I have counted more instances where I do not trust law enforcement and politicians over the lives of Black men, than I have the previous 30+ years of my life combined, because of tampered evidence that could have saved a Black man’s freedom, reputation or life.
After a couple weeks of talking about his life circumstances, El-Amin, with the support of his attorney, insisted that he tells his story and entrusted me in helping getting his voice heard.
I was pleasantly surprised, given his stress-filled life, that El-Amin was very poised while providing colorful descriptions of the Dallas BBQ incident, his mood before the fiasco and how he has handled his destroyed image. He knew that his silence as he gathered evidence continued to provoke his guilt before proven innocent by the perceptions of media and the public.
“It was all a nightmare. I could not believe that all of this happened,” summed up El-Amin’s joyous-turned-horrific evening.
On why he has been silent about the Dallas BBQ incident since the news spread rapidly:
“I think that is very important to mention that I have been advised from making public statements to the press or social media. I’m sure that a lot of people were confused or have misunderstood – or took the wrong idea – that I have been silent after hearing such negative allegations against me.”
I felt that it was important to get an idea on the mood that he was in before trouble came his way inside Dallas BBQ. El-Amin shared with me what brought him and his friends to the restaurant:
“I was leaving a charity event that a friend invited me — to a charity that was in support a breast cancer foundation that was downtown on 23rd Street. He and I went to the event. We had a great time. We met some of his colleagues, and some of his family members were there. One his friends that was there with us, we decided to get something to eat because we hadn’t eaten. We decided to go to BBQ’s.”
[Note: Dallas BBQ was not chosen to get drunk off margaritas for Cinco de Mayo but rather it was a nearby restaurant to the charity festivities he attended].
El-Amin’s play-by-play account of the widely-publicized Dallas BBQ brawl:
“We were sitting at our table, and there was [initially] no disturbance in the restaurant. All of a sudden, we noticed a disturbance some distance away from us. Two men [Snipes and his companion] were standing over their table fighting each other, and the fight threatened to spill over to the table of ladies that were closest to them. [The ladies] were cringing when they saw the two guys fighting each other [right by them].
So, I said [Snipes and his companion], ‘Hey, guys! There are ladies here.’ I said it in a tone that was authoritative…to get their attention. However, they continued.
Moments later, it appeared that Mr. Snipes was going to leave the restaurant. But, by standing at the door, he directed his attention toward me, walked towards me and said, ‘And YOU calling us ladies!’ And, he struck me. He struck me in the head with an object. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt like a heavy blunt object — and it hurt.
I was shocked. I was confused. I had no idea why I’ve been hit. I didn’t know if I was going to be hit again. I was in pain. I knew that I needed to react quickly because I was afraid that if I didn’t that I would be hit again. Or, someone else at my table would have been hit. So, I immediately went at him. I got up toward him, and that’s where you see the video started.” [He is referring to the video that was caught by a Dallas BBQ patron’s phone that went viral for shock value rather than telling the story that went with the shown actions. You will have to do an internet search to find the video because I am not using this space to play down his accounts to what was seen in the video.]
El-Amin continued and answered some of the rumored accounts that spread throughout the internet, even The G-List:
“He assaulted me. I was the victim. People don’t realize that. People don’t know that. I was sitting at my table. With no provocation, he came up and hit me. There was no slur thrown at him. There was no bumping into my table and knocking over my drinks. There was no interaction between us in a sense, except for what I said earlier when I said to them, ‘Hey, guys! There are ladies here.’ Then, he came over to me and said, ‘And YOU calling up ladies.’ Then, POW!
He definitely made false accusations and tried to put a crime on my that did not happen. I defended myself.”
On the public perception that the chair throwing was excessive and unnecessary:
“I was defending myself. Whether or not people feel that I had the right to defend myself – or whether or not people feel the way that I defended myself would have been the way they would’ve defended themselves, I would say unless you are in that particular situation and have been a person who has dealt with some of the things that I have dealt with and seen some of the things that I have seen…I’ve been a security professional. I worked and been in situations like that. I’ve seen things like that escalate and take shape.
I didn’t know if [Snipes] had a weapon or not, or [that Snipes’ companion] was going to join in. I didn’t know if we were going to be hurt. I didn’t know if the people at my table were going to be hurt. It could have been worse. So, my reactions were more out of fear.
Can I speculate why people could look at me and assume that I was able to subdue him more than he would [subdue] me because of my size? I don’t know. Was I supposed to overpower two guys by myself?
I’m 6’6″ and roughly close to 300 pounds. Normally, when someone sees me stand up, they’re slightly intimidated. This guy was not which made me more trepidatious (sic) about what was going to happen because that may have meant that he is guy who is either really drunk or had a weapon – or his companion was going to jump in, which he did. He didn’t back down at all. There was no security there [inside Dallas BBQ] to protect [him and his friends].
My only thought was to facilitate an exit that they would not follow behind us because there was no one there to stop them from doing so – or pull a weapon out on us. There was a chair that’s closest thing to me. That’s why I threw it. I didn’t look at as a way to mane (sic) him or use as a deadly force.”
On how he felt about Snipes going immediately to the media, instead of NYPD, to tell his story as if he was a victim of a hate crime:
“I have been advised [by his attorney] to stay away from social media and not read some of the things people said. I did not get an opportunity to dissect what [Snipes] said on DNA Info site, but I got to read what he said [on The G-List, quoted from DNA Info], and what said was line for line, word for word a flat out lie — a web of lies that was put together by someone who felt the need to cover his tracks.”
On whether he said the words “white faggot” to Snipes during the fight (as Snipes was quoted saying to DNAInfo) and whether Snipes allegedly called him a nigger according to rumors:
“I can definitely confirm that I did not say anything that was directed towards his race or sexual orientation. As far as what he said, he may have said something [like a slur] to me, but I did not acknowledge that.
I’ve been called a lot of things. And there is no way possible if you know me or my life, I could be called anywhere near a homophobe or anything like that. That is about the furthest thing from the truth about me.
It is important to know that I didn’t have any thought about his sexuality or any thought about who they were, their color, gender, etc. That didn’t play any part whatsoever on MY end. I based my actions on the fact he assaulted me.”
On injuries he suffered from the altercation:
“I had a head injury. I was treated by a nurse. I had a contusion, a big knot from whatever he hit me with and two lacerations.
I was bleeding. I jumped in the cab. I didn’t realize the extent of the bleeding until the cab driver said, ‘Hey! You’re bleeding.’
I wish I have taken pictures because I didn’t think that this [news] would go out as big at it is.”
On how his life turned upside down since the incident:
“I’ve been vilified and demonized by the press. I’ve been forced to leave my home. I have received death threats. I have received harassing messages and e-mails. My family has been harassed. Someone has leaked where I live. My neighbors have been harassed. My neighbors were chased inside of their building.
The police has told my mother that they were going to kick her door in. My mother is 71 years old, and she’s a heart patient. My family members have been humiliated publicly.”
The entire interview is about 35 minutes long. You may listen to its entirely below.
If El-Amin refused to be interviewed on my blog, I would have still been available to chat with him about his well-being and getting his name cleared like the random times of the days we have spoken. I sincerely wish him well as he fights to clear his name.
In case you are interested in reading some of the racist trolling backlash I have received: