Advocates for justice for a gay black man found dead in the West Hollywood apartment of a prominent Democratic Party donor in July say the case isn't receiving as much attention as Hollywood studio chief Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault scandal because of race, class and sexual orientation.
"What makes one situation worth covering over the other?" asks political commentator Jasmyne Cannick, who has become the prime L.A. custodian of the late Gemmel Moore's story. "Maybe it's the victims."
Of course, facts and allegations in both cases are divergent. Weinstein has been accused of raping and harassing a number of big-name actresses, including Rose McGowan, who says the ousted Weinstein Company chief raped her, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who alleges harassment. Others allege Weinstein withheld job opportunities from women who declined his advances in hotel rooms. The news prompted several prominent Democrats who received campaign contributions from Weinstein, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to return the cash or redirect it to nonprofit organizations. Of course, the victims here are world-famous; their allegations produced global headlines.
Twenty-six-year-old Moore was found dead at Ed Buck's apartment on July 27. The case was tentatively ruled by the coroner to be one of accidental methamphetamine overdose, and sheriff's officials, which have jurisdiction in West Hollywood, initially declined to investigate further. But Moore's mother reached out to a few journalists to allege that her son feared Buck. A friend said Moore had told him Buck would pick up young, gay black men on the street, bring them to his apartment, and urge them to get high for his enjoyment.
After the mother's concerns made headlines, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department opened a homicide investigation. Cannick connected Moore's mother to L.A. civil rights attorney Nana Gyamfi and began campaigns not only to keep the spotlight on the case but also to urge beneficiaries of Buck's campaign contributions to give the money back. While prominent Democrats were quick to push Weinstein's cash away, Cannick says only U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, among dozens of recipients, returned the full amount of Buck's money. The California Democratic Party has been silent about the case.
In his younger days, Buck led the effort to recall then–Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham in 1987, kicking off a life in politics even as he made his money in insurance services. He ran for West Hollywood City Council and lost. He advocated a ban on fur retailing in the Westside city and won. Buck has been pictured shoulder to shoulder with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Buck's attorney, Seymour I. Amster, maintains his client's innocence and says Buck welcomes the investigation into Moore's death. Asked for his response to criticism that allegations against Weinstein have carried more weight because prominent white women stood up and told their stories, Amster said the comparison is shameful.
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"Why do you attack victims of a terrible situation to justify your own cause?" he said. "To try to diminish what white women have gone through is just as despicable as trying to diminish what black men have gone through."
Advocates for Moore beg to differ, arguing that his life mattered. And they note that while some of Weinstein's accusers have alleged serious crimes, Moore's case involves a homicide investigation.
"Maybe there needs to be more attention placed on Ed Buck," lawyer Gyamfi says. "What's happening with young, black gay men? They're not famous. Much of the difference here comes from the fact that there's a standard of respect-worthiness. White women are always respect-worthy. Young, black gay men who are sex workers — they never get respectable."
"You can throw Weinstein under the bus," she says, "but not Ed Buck."