With Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Ed Buck, Community Looks to Find Solutions

LaTisha Nixon, mother of Gemmel Moore, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Feb. 26 against Republican-turned-Democrat fundraiser Ed Buck. Moore was found dead in Buck's Los Angeles apartment in July 2017 due to an overdose of crystal methamphetamine, and while Buck was questioned by the West Hollywood police, no arrest was made.

On Jan. 7 this year, Timothy Dean, another black gay man, died in Buck's apartment of an overdose; there was still no arrest made. Activists in LA and across the nation have been organizing for an arrest and have speculated that Buck being a white male with connections to very high-profile politicians has made West Hollywood police rule both deaths "accidental overdoses." People in the broader LA community have been mixed in their opinions about what kinds of actions should be taken.

Some community members have called for more investigations and have tried to cut ties with Buck if he had an explicit affiliation. "The club broke all ties to Mr. Buck," said Lester F. Aponte, president of the LA Stonewall Democratic Club, of which Buck was a donor and steering committee member. "We have issued public statements calling for a full and thorough investigation, and had conversations with elected officials who have been out front on this issue."

Sepi Shyne, a former candidate for a city council seat in West Hollywood, also has called for a more thorough investigation. "As a community, we need to pressure our elected officials, including the city council, the sheriff, and the district attorney to conduct a full homicide investigation to find justice for Timothy Dean," she said. "This must include limited immunity deals to protect witnesses as well, so that the full picture of what happened can be revealed."

She also spoke about needing to spread the word to people of color and to provide more resources, in an effort to keep them away from crystal meth and more dangerous kinds of sex work that may make them vulnerable to predatory behavior. Shyne believes that as a community we "can call on our elected officials to provide similar resources and work to actively engage people at risk of abusive situations with skills to assist, like counseling, legal representation, and health care."

Many people in LA's black and Latinx communities would like to see Buck arrested. Activist Jasmyne Cannick stated in an opinion piece for Out.com that "the death of yet another Black man in the West Hollywood home of LGBTQ activist and prominent Democratic donor Ed Buck is on the hands of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney because it didn't have to happen. Ed Buck should have been behind bars for the death of the first man who died in his house of an overdose." She has been present at several of the local protests calling for his arrest, and the hashtag #ArrestEdBuck has become popular in social media platforms.

Cannick and others have good reason to call for his arrest, given the circumstances of the deaths. More young black men have come forward and, according to Cannick, have said that Buck "has a Tuskegee Experiment-like fetish, which includes shooting drugs into young Black men who he picks up off the street or via dating hookup websites."

Meth is a highly addictive substance that has been popular in the gay community for a long time, but most recently has become more widely used among queer men of color. It is often used during sex. As use of the drug has increased in major cities among black and Latinx men of color, it has been reported that often times this drug is used as leverage to entice these men to have sex with older, wealthier, white men in order to be paid for sex work. In some cases, people have been allegedly given the drug without their knowledge or consent and have become addicted, such as in situations involving Ed Buck. According to reports from other black gay men, Buck invites black gay men (some of whom are sex workers and/or homeless) to his place to "party" and coerces them into having sex under the influence of meth and GHB, another party drug that sexually disinhibits users and, in large enough doses, can render a person unconscious, which is why it's called the "date rape" drug.

These power dynamics involving white gay men and men of color are beginning to be documented as more men of color speak out about their addiction, and they mirror what Moore wrote in his journal about how he'd been coerced to use with Ed Buck. Last year, I interviewed several Latinx gay men in LA for a story for TheBody who described non-consensual experiences similar to Moore's experiences of using meth among white gay men.

Micheal Rice's documentary, parTy boi, highlights the issues involving crystal meth in black gay communities, particularly in New York. Rice delves into the story of crystal meth in black communities and how white gay men use this drug as leverage amongst escorts and black men.

"These wealthy gay men would start buying black sex workers. And what they would do was pay these escorts to use it," said Rice in an interview on the BrothaSpeak podcast. "We started to have a large quantity of black escorts not knowing how addictive [meth] is. But when those white men finish using these black escorts, where are they going back to?" Rice concludes that they're going back to the communities in which they live, not into white gay neighborhoods.

Once they are home in their own communities, LA-based writer and activist Jayce Baron thinks we can begin to transform the dynamics of substance use and sex (particularly where money and power are involved) by dealing with internalized homophobia and shame in these spaces: "We are taught that our sex is demonized," said Baron, "and sometimes as queer men of color, we don't want to be coherent when we are having sex. We have to help our brothers and sisters get the help they need by having those conversations."

Giuliani Alvarenga is a UC Berkeley alumnus who double majored in English and gender & women's studies. He is a Sidley Austin Pre-Law Scholar and wrapping up his two-year clerkship with Munger, Tolles, & Olson before he begins law school.