Orlando police are investigating after an unidentified person was captured on surveillance cameras appearing to break the windows at a nightlife complex that is home to three LGBTQ bars.
Video surveillance footage from around 3:40 a.m. on Wednesday shows a person — believed to be a man, based on stature and appearance — in a hooded sweatshirt walking by the Southern Nights complex in Orlando’s Milk District, which houses the LGBTQ bars District Dive, Southern Craft, and Southern Nights.
As the video continues, the man walks back and forth in front of several windows, which begin to shatter. At one point, the man appears to make a motion with his arms as if he was using a slingshot to fire something at the windows. In total, eight windows were broken.
Police said it appears the unidentified vandal “used an unknown item that was able to shatter the windows.”
Nobody was harmed in the incident, which occurred about 10 minutes after the last employees had closed down the bars. Orlando police do not yet have a suspect or have not determined a possible motive for the crime.
“The Orlando Police Department does not tolerate criminal behavior of any kind,” Chief Eric Smith said in a statement. “Whoever committed this brazen vandalism against our city’s LGBTQ+ businesses will be held accountable.”
Blue Star, an LGBTQ advocate and a spokesperson for Southern Nights, called the incident “heartbreaking.”
“Your first initial thought is that you are a target for a specific reason,” Star told Orlando NBC affiliate WESH. “I don’t want to assume. But I can tell you that my heart feels attacked for sure.
“Every day we stand up and we fight for our rights. Unfortunately, in Florida, we are battling the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws, our anti-trans laws. Every single day you’re beat down when you wake up,” Star added. “And to have someone attack one of our safe spaces in Orlando is disheartening.”
Employees of the bar and construction workers arrived on scene on Wednesday morning to clean up the broken glass and board up some of the windows so the bar could open later that day.
“We want to make sure that the community understands…that their safety is the first and foremost thing that we are thinking about. But we also want to remain vigilant. And we want to remain open,” Star said.
Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who arrived on scene while the debris was being cleaned up, said she hoped that the incident was not fueled by the recent spate of incendiary rhetoric directed at the LGBTQ community.
“I hate it because there’s been so much backlash against the LGBTQ community lately. I hope this is not related to that kind of rhetoric that spreads hatred towards my community,” Sheehan said.
But she also expressed confidence that the community would rebound from this latest setback.
“Gay people are resistant. Gay bars are resistant,” Sheehan told WESH. “We are people who rise from the ashes and keep going every time no matter how much stuff you throw at us. We’re going to keep going. And we have the support of this community. This is going to be not something that’s going to be found to be popular. And I wish people would just keep their hatred to themselves.”
Orlando police are asking for help in identifying the vandal. Those with information about the vandalism are asked to call 321-235-5300 or contact the police department’s Crimeline anonymously by calling 1-800-423-TIPS (8477) or texting **TIPS (8477).
“We need everybody to look at that,” Sheehan said, referring to the security footage of the vandalism. “And if you know who that person is we need to identify this person so that we can figure out what this person’s intent was.”
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