By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
A controversial black gay AIDS activist has been run out of town with a bloody nose--assaulted by an apartment manager, he says, a convicted drug dealer who worked for his former employer and arch enemy: the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver. The dispute, which took place in an apartment complex for poor black people with AIDS, resulted in fights, arrests and a petition campaign by other AIDS sufferers but little action from the Urban League.
Love him or hate him, stormy Steve Arrington is generally credited with forcing Denver's black community to recognize and deal with the AIDS epidemic. But as an activist, he often antagonized other AIDS agencies and government officials by accusing them of racism whenever he perceived inequities in services and funding. And last fall he openly criticized the Urban League for weakening the AIDS outreach program he directed before becoming too ill ("On the Outside," December 21, 1994).
Among Arrington's accomplishments was helping secure a federal Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS loan (HOPWA) to purchase and renovate a small, single-story apartment complex in Capitol Hill. Four of the six tiny apartments were set aside to house low-income blacks with AIDS who would otherwise be homeless; there was a food bank in the basement. The Northeast Denver Housing Center received the low-interest loan and owns the building.
A year ago, Arrington, who had already survived several bouts with AIDS-related infections, got sick again and had to quit his job with the Urban League's Black AIDS Project at Large (B-A-PAL). He moved into the apartments as a client.
That's when he began to run into trouble with Ken Williams, who managed the complex through a joint agreement between Northeast Denver Housing and the Urban League. In exchange for free rent, Williams maintained the premises for the housing agency. He received a salary of $475 every two weeks from B-A-PAL to look after the daily needs of the people with AIDS.
Arrington describes Williams as a convicted drug dealer and bully who assaulted him three times over minor incidents. Witnesses to scenes between the two men say that Arrington got the brunt of Williams's antagonism because he was the only one to stand up to the apartment manager.
But Williams says the animosity began over sex and that his accuser's public face is much different from his private persona.
"The problems began because Steve is gay and I'm heterosexual," Williams says. "From the first time we met, he's been trying to sleep with me and making all kinds of sexual overtures.
"I've told him, `Steve, I'm not interested, so just chill out and we can be friends.' I'm pretty liberal, so I don't care what he does to make himself happy so long as it doesn't infringe on me."
But Arrington continued to make advances, Williams says, reminding him that he had set up the interview that got Williams the job.
Arrington insists that Williams is gay and that they had a sexual relationship. In fact, he says, Williams is representative of a major problem with AIDS in the black community: black men who have male lovers but don't think of themselves as being homosexual or bisexual.
"That's why AIDS is so concentrated in African-American women," says Arrington. "Because guys like Kenny are with a woman this year and next year with a man--and I'm not his first boyfriend."
Last September 4, Arrington claims, he was weeding dandelions from a flower garden in front of the building when Williams angrily informed him that groundskeeping was his job. Arrington says his response was that in a community living situation, "everyone can help." Williams then punched him in the nose, he says, breaking it. Three people--a friend and a relative of Arrington's, as well as an apartment resident--say they witnessed the incident.
Williams's version is that Arrington was stealing flowers that Williams had purchased and planted in front of his apartment. It was when he was attempting to retrieve his flowers, "which weren't dandelions," that Arrington "slipped and fell" on the sidewalk, bloodying his nose.
Arrington says the flowers were purchased with money donated to B-A-PAL. "Kenny wouldn't know a weed from a flower," he says. "But next thing I know is, I'm waking up on the ground with blood all over the place."
Arrington reported the assault to B-A-PAL caseworker Laura McDowell, who called him back and said that Williams began to cry when confronted and then apologized. McDowell discussed the incident and Williams's attitude with other apartment residents, who, she reported, displayed "a sense of discomfort...not at ease in their surroundings."
Her report of the incident to the Urban League also stated that regardless of whatever personality conflicts there were between Arrington and Williams, "when one puts his hands on the other, a line has been crossed...especially when the physical abuse comes from a person in an authority position."
It wasn't long before the two men were at it again. On October 3, Arrington says, he complained to Williams about a loud argument the apartment manager was having with his girlfriend. Williams, who has a history of domestic-violence disturbances requiring police response, knocked Arrington to the ground.