A little more than a week ago, a party was thrown at an abandoned gravel pit by a group of people that included students from Proctor High School.
Aside from that, little else is known as fact about the events that took place that Saturday night in Kelsey Township, where a 21-year-old Duluth man alleges he was beaten by as many as nine people because he told them he was gay when asked about his sexual orientation. One person was arrested — a 19-year-old man who isn’t a Proctor student. He since has been released from jail with pending charges.
The absence of facts didn’t stop people from using social media as a platform to fill in the blanks with what they think occurred.
“Proctor u (expletive) hicks. 13 kids beat the (expletive) outta 1 gay kid for being gay n (expletive) near killed him,” read one tweet posted within hours of the alleged incident.
Similar chatter dominated Duluth-area conversations on Facebook, where a screenshot of a post — complete with redacted names — alleging a 13-on-1 assault made its way from newsfeed to newsfeed.
“JUST WITNESSED THE MOST VIOLENT HATE CRIME BY PROCTOR HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS!!!” the anonymous post read.
And on the News Tribune’s own Facebook page, a reader posted “10 of them decided to jump 1 person.”
So, what happened?
Did nine, 10 or 13 people attack one person?
Was everyone involved a senior at Proctor?
Why were no Proctor High School seniors arrested?
“With this known hate crime, you can’t expect people NOT to speak out,” another DNT reader posted.
True, but was it a hate crime?
One fact that can’t be denied is that a gravel-pit shindig of underage alcohol consumption still is illegal, despite any pretense of parental control or law enforcement. And the pit party did nothing but hurt Proctor’s reputation.
“It comes as no surprise to learn it’s Proctor kids,” a Facebook post read.
As a student at Denfeld High School in the late 1990s, I’d hear people in neighboring communities tongue-in-cheek poke fun at Proctor. Remarks such as “Proctor High School has a parking lot reserved exclusively for snowmobiles” and “Upon entering high school, Proctor kids are handed boxes of hair bleach at the door” were commonplace. And when my Hunters played soccer against the Rails, it was almost a guarantee that our best players would be limping off the field by game’s end.
My friends from Proctor have spent years dealing with unfair potshots directed at their community. This latest chapter of living up to those stereotypes does nothing but set the town back in the eyes of those critics.
A problem of social media this case illustrates is the cyber-mob mentality that can make a story almost instantly spin out of control. Armed with all the information it needed, a group of instant protesters called for a rally in response to the alleged attack (they didn’t use the word “alleged”). Thankfully, by the time they gathered in Proctor on the rainy Memorial Day afternoon, cooler heads prevailed and the event was peaceful and civil.
Authorities promised daily that charges were forthcoming, but still haven’t announced any, now saying wait until next week. Even so, the actions will remain alleged until there is a conviction.
But whether or not anything ever is proven in this case, nothing justifies an attack on a person or group of people based on their human condition.
It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, or from Proctor.
Jimmy Bellamy is a multimedia editor for the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.