A sheriff’s detective in Knox County, Tennessee, gave a sermon calling for the execution of LGBTQ people earlier this month, and now the community is responding to his gruesome statements.
Detective Grayson Fritts, who is also a pastor, gave a sermon on June 2 to the All Scripture Baptist Church in Knoxville. In his sermon, Fritts called LGBTQ people “freaks” and “animals” and said the police and government should enforce what he believes to be the Bible’s stance on the matter.
Fritts said, according to WVLT, “Here’s how it should work, it shouldn’t work when we go out and we enforce the laws, because the Bible says the powers that be are ordained of God and God has instilled the power of civil government to send the police in 2019 out to these LGBT freaks and arrest them. Have a trial for them, and if they are convicted then they are to be put to death…do you understand that? it’s a capital crime to be carried out by our government.”
He said that during pride parades, riot teams should be called to the scene to arrest people.
He added, “After this onslaught, where the government’s arresting them and carrying out God’s laws and they’re all dead…you think.”
On Wednesday, Sheriff Tom Spangler released a statement to the media and said Fritts asked two weeks ago to take a county buyout offer, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. The sheriff agreed and Fritts will be on paid sick leave until July 19, when the offer takes effect. The Knox County Attorney General’s Office said it is also looking into the matter. Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said she is reviewing pending cases that involve Fritts as a witness in criminal proceedings.
“Although my office has never received a complaint regarding Mr. Fritts prior to this incident, I have assigned an Assistant District Attorney to receive complaints regarding closed cases, and I will act on those complaints as justice dictates.” she said in an announcement this week.
Meanwhile, Fritts has not tried to walk back his comments or disavow what he said on June 2. He gave another sermon on Wednesday and talked about what he essentially believes is persecution for his beliefs.
“I’m not an anomaly. I am a Baptist preacher that is just preaching the Bible and if it offends society, then it’s going to offend society.” Fritts said on Wednesday, according to the News Sentinel. He then urged other Baptist pastors to “grow a spine” and “stand up just like I’m standing up.”
In his sermon, Fritts seemed to think it was an important distinction that he was calling for the government to execute LGBTQ people, not for individual citizens to take his version of the law into their own hands.
“I’m not calling anybody in here to arms. I’m not calling anyone here to violence,” he said, “I’m saying it’s the government’s responsibility, is what I said … we should be ‘harmless as doves,'” he said.
Fritts’ comments are particularly worrisome in light of other powerful figures in local government making similar comments this Pride Month. In Alabama, Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers wrote on Facebook, “We live in a society where homosexuals lecture us on morals, transvestites lecture us on human biology, baby killers lecture us on human rights and socialists lecture us on economics.”
A Facebook friend then responded, “By giving the minority more rights than the majority. I hate to think of the country my grandkids will live in unless somehow we change and I think that will take a revolution.”
Chambers then replied to the comment, which has since been deleted, “The only way to change it would be to kill the problem out. I know it’s bad to say but without killing them out there’s no way to fix it.”
At first, Chambers denied that he posted the comments. Later, he admitted doing so but claimed they were “taken out of context,” and eventually, he apologized in a since deleted Facebook post. LGBTQ advocacy groups, a few city council members, and a man who survived an attack from the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, have called for Chambers to resign. Chambers has previously stated that he will not resign.
On Sunday, neo-Nazis showed up at Detroit’s pride parade and shouted insults of parade-goers while they tore up a rainbow flag. The small group, which is part of the National Socialist Movement, marched with a police escort. One of them reportedly shouted “fuck you, faggots” into a bullhorn. Some activists and parade-goers were upset with the police’s decision to escort the group and said it only served to protect the neo-Nazis. Police defended their decision and said it was an attempt to prevent violence from breaking out.
All these events should be understood in the context of the pride parade’s history, as well as the current reality of LGBTQ people’s relations with police. The Stonewall Uprising in 1969 was in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, which was part of a broader crackdown on gay bars operating without liquor licenses, which the N.Y. State Liquor Authority made a habit of refusing to grant to these bars. The first pride parade was held in New York City one year after the uprising. And today, LGBTQ people still face discrimination from police in the form of profiling trans women of color for prostitution-related charges, sexual violence against LGBTQ people, and hostile, discriminatory comments.
There is also well-informed fear in the LGBTQ community that Pride Month, and the increased visibility of the community, will bring more hate incidents. There have been incidents this year of people having their pride flags set on fire. During Washington, D.C.’s pride parade, parade-goers thought they heard gunshots and several people were injured as people ran from what they believed to be an active shooter. Although authorities believe no shots were actually fired, a man was eventually arrested on a gun possession charge.
During pride month in 2016, an armed gunman named Omar Mateen went into Pulse, an Orlando, Florida, LGBTQ nightclub. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in one of the deadliest mass shooting incidents in American history. That same year, in Montgomery, Alabama, members of League of the South, which denounces the federal government and Northern and Coast states, disrupted a pride rally that was meant to show support for the victims of the Pulse shooting. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the people who participated with the League of the South was Shaun Winkler, a former Klansmen, member of the Aryan Nations, and a listed contact for the National Socialist Movement. This year, organizers in Boston have decided to have their own “straight pride parade.” One of the organizers is with the group Resist Marxism, which has ties to violent white supremacists.
In 2018, the FBI reported a 17% year-over-year rise in federal hate crimes in the United States, with 7,175 bias crimes in 2017. It was the largest increase in hate crimes since the September 11 attacks. Those who were targeted because they were LGBTQ made up nearly 17% of all victims. It was the third consecutive year hate crimes increased.