Equality Florida head questions sheriff’s response to killing of gay man at Tampa dog park

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, is questioning the response by the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office to the shooting death of a gay man at a Tampa dog park who had told friends the shooter had threatened to kill him because he was gay.

Smith made the comments during a wide-ranging interview on WMNF WaveMakers with Janet and Tom.

The sheriff’s office didn’t even announce the shooting death of Walter Lay for four days, and then only through a brief press release after reporters started asking questions. It said no charges were pending.

Smith sees the killing as part of a larger pattern of violence and threats of violence driven by increasingly hateful rhetoric on the right. “We continue to see the escalation of violence,” she said. We know what happens with this kind of rhetoric. It is intended to create a scapegoat who can be targeted…”

The shooting death of Lay came 24 hours after he made a video he sent to a friend saying he had been threatened by Gerald Declan Radford. “We’re the only two people here, and he comes up to me and screams at me, ‘You’re going to die. You’re gonna die,’” Lay said in the video, according to ABC Action News.

Smith said it appears the sheriff’s office is not investigating Lay’s death as a hate crime, or even a homicide. The community wants a serious investigation, she said. Smith said she has spoken with Sheriff Chad Chronister and his investigators and she is not convinced they are investigating his death as a hate-motivated killing.

“People who knew both men are saying they don’t understand why he hasn’t been arrested,” Smith said. Radford told investigators he shot Lay in self-defense. She said she’s not convinced the sheriff’s office understands the gravity of the shooting and the fear it instills in the community. “Is there a bias that’s stopping them from grasping the importance and the gravity of the situation?”

Smith also discussed her efforts to fight state legislation targeting the LGBTQ, including a proposal to forbid local governments from flying a gay pride flag and another prohibiting people from using the gender they identify with on their driver’s licenses.

Despite the ongoing attack on LGBTQ rights in Florida, Smith said she sees reasons to be optimistic.

“I do want to tell people to be hopeful,” she said, “because we’ve seen this before.” It’s important that those who support equality “show up for the fight.” She called what’s happening in Florida “a desperate attempt to drag us backwards and they fail as long as we don’t cower and find the courage to speak out. Don’t be a bystander.”

Hear the entire conversation by clicking the link below, going to the WaveMakers archives or by searching for WMNF WaveMakers wherever you listen to podcasts.

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