NYC Galvanized By Spate of Anti-Gay Hate Crimes
In a massive show of solidarity, New York City’s LGBT citizenry came together on the steps of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on the evening of May 20 to protest the recent spate of hate crimes against gays in the city, including the fatal shooting of a gay man in Greenwich Village. Thousands of participants marched to the site of the shooting on Sixth Avenue.
"I know you share my sadness and outrage at the recent string of anti-gay violence gripping our city, including the horrific murder of 32-year old Mark Carson on Friday night, just blocks from the Center," said Center Executive Director Glennda Testone. "I want you to know that the Center is committed to standing with community partners and leaders, and doing everything in our power to respond and denounce this wave of violence against our community."
On May 17, African-American Carson traveled from his Harlem neighborhood to Greenwich Village, as he often did on weekends. Late that evening, he and a friend were accosted by three men, one of whom asked, "What are you, gay wrestlers?"
In response, Carson and his friend replied, "What did you say?" but kept walking. As the other men followed Carson and his friend, repeating anti-gay slurs, the gunman, later identified by police as Elliot Morales, asked the men if they were together, and when they said they were, said, "Do you want to die here?"
Morales then produced a revolver, fired a shot into Carson’s cheek and fled to West 3rd Street, where an officer who had heard his description on the police radio ordered him to stop. Carson was later pronounced dead at Beth Israel Hospital. Morales, was arrested and charged with murder as a hate crime.
"There were no words that would aggravate the situation spoken by the victims here," said Commissioner Ray Kelly. "This fully looks to be a hate crime, a bias crime."
Earlier that evening, Morales had been spotted urinating outside of an upscale restaurant near the Stonewall Inn, the historic birthplace of the gay rights movement. He reportedly went inside the restaurant, opened his sweatshirt to reveal a shoulder holster with a revolver and told the bartender and manager, "If you call the police, I’ll shoot you," followed by anti-gay remarks.
Although Morales was carrying fake identification, the NYPD’s Facial Recognition Unit identified Morales as an ex-convict who had served a 10-year prison sentence for robbery. Morales also had a previous arrest for attempted murder in 1998.
On Sunday, May 19, Morales appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court, where he was also charged with criminal possession of a weapon and menacing, according to reports by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. He has been held without bail pending another court appearance on Thursday.
"We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us," and "Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia’s got to go" were the chants the crowd of thousands cried out on May 20 as they marched to West 8th Street and Sixth Avenue, to the Barnes & Noble bookstore where the shooting occurred. Among them, lesbian City Council member Rosie Mendez, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, and City Council Member Letitia James. A sidewalk memorial shrine now stands in the doorway of the shuttered bookstore.
Carson Just the Latest in String of Anti-Gay Attacks
"I am horrified to learn that last night, a gay man was murdered in my district after being chased out of a Greenwich Village restaurant and assailed by homophobic slurs," said Quinn, who vowed the LGBT community would never return to the days of rampant anti-gay violence. "I stand with all New Yorkers in condemning this attack."
"Our hearts grieve for Mark’s loved ones," said GLAAD national spokesperson Wilson Cruz. "While our community has made progress, this is a stark and sobering reminder of the rife homophobia that still exists in our culture. These crimes are intended to scare and silence LGBT people. However as a proud New York native, I am confident that our community and our city will not be silenced, but will rather come together to stop this rash of senseless violence ...Speaker Christine Quinn, other elected officials, and the New York City Anti-Violence Project continue to showcase strong leadership in addressing the safety of LGBT New Yorkers," said Cruz. "Yet, we are reminded still that, until we rid our society of the discrimination that allows us to be seen as inferior and less than human, we will never truly be safe, even in one of the most accepting cities in the world."
Organizations also participated, including GLAAD, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Brooklyn Community Pride Center and the Bronx LGBTQ Center, Make the Road NYC and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The violent murder of Carson is just the latest example in what has been a pattern of biased violence against gay men in New York City in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, a 35-year-old man told police he was beaten up and heard anti-gay slurs after leaving a bar on Christopher Street. On May 10, two men trying to enter a billiards hall on West 32nd Street were approached and beaten by a group shouting homophobic slurs, police said.
And on May 5, a man and his partner were beaten near Madison Square Garden after a group of men hurled anti-gay slurs at them. "This happened in Midtown, during the day, with a ton of people around," wrote one of the victims, Nick Porto, on Facebook. "When are we safe?"
The NYPD has reported a rise in bias-related crimes overall so far this year, to 22 from 13 during the same period last year. The New York City Anti-Violence Project, a nonprofit group that tracks police and other reports of hate attacks against LGBT people, says its numbers rose 13 percent in 2011 and 11 percent the previous year.
Commissioner Kelly said that police were looking into possible links between the incidents. But elected officials are putting their foot down.
"Nobody anywhere should have to live with fear of harm because of his or her sexual orientation," said openly gay State Senator Brad Hoylman. "It is particularly upsetting that recent anti-LGBT incidents have occurred in neighborhoods in my district on the West Side of Manhattan, home to many members of our community. I applaud the NYPD for making a swift arrest in this case and call on all New Yorkers to unite against hate and gun violence."