Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Another Horrific Trans Murder in Puerto Rico: Anti-Trans Violence Epidemic Continues

Corpse of slain transwoman transported to coroner (Primera Hora photo/ David Villafañe)

Caguas, Puerto Rico – In less than two months, police in Puerto Rico are investigating the savage murder of another transgender woman.  Angie González Oquendo, 38, was found strangled to death with an electrical cord in her home in Caguas.  Police have not yet designated the murder as a hate crime, but LGBT activists familiar with the outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in Puerto Rico are calling for a full hate crime investigation.  EDGE Boston reports that the last time Ms. González Oquendo was seen alive was May 20.  Investigators believe she was murdered later that same day. El Nuevo Día reports that the body of the slain transgender woman was found when neighbors reported a repugnant odor coming from her apartment. Though Ms. González Oquendo’s father believes that her boyfriend murdered his daughter, Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said to reporters that a hate crime investigation must be launched nonetheless.  Speaking to EDGE, Serrano said, “At the very least, I suspect that a crime could have been committed by prejudice against the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The authorities have an obligation under the law to investigate this hate angle.” Angie González Oquendo is the most recent in a grim series of anti-LGBT hate murders in the United States Territory.  Five weeks ago, police discovered the body of Ashley Santiago Ocasio who had been stabbed to death in her home in Corozal.  In November of last year, Jorge Steven López Mercado’s decapitated, dismembered and partially immolated body was found on a lonely rode outside Caguas.  His murderer, Juan Martínez Matos, was sentenced to 99 years in prison after pleading guilty to the Silence-of-the-Lambs-style killing.  The transgender community in Puerto Rico is understandably on edge as this latest news of murder sweeps through the population.  Transgender people are among the most vulnerable citizens of the island paradise, and transphobic murder is emerging as a substantial indicator that such violence is reaching epidemic proportions. EDGE reports that Guillermo Chacon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, issued a statement just as the story of Ms. González Oquendo’s brutal murder broke in the press.  In part, Mr. Chacon said, “I urge the Latino community to be united as one voice and with our personal actions reject any type of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination. We are one family; we must pursue the well-being of all our members. We must address homophobia and transphobia by putting a stop to the jokes, slurs, discrimination and hatred faced by our LGBT brothers and sisters, not just in Puerto Rico but across the entire country. Hatred and violence is never the answer.”

May 25, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, gay teens, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Strangulation, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Another Horrific Trans Murder in Puerto Rico: Anti-Trans Violence Epidemic Continues

Harvey Milk, Slain Gay Rights Pioneer, Honored Across the USA

San Franciso, CA – May 22 marks the first official Harvey Milk Day by action of the State of California.  Milk, the first openly gay or lesbian office holder in American history, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.  Because of his advocacy for LGBT rights, especially the citizens of his district, Harvey was affectionately known as the “mayor of Castro Street.”  In 1978, he was gunned down a few minutes after Mayor George Moscone faced the same fate at the hands of disgruntled former city supervisor, Dan White.  The story is compellingly told by the Academy Award winning film, “Milk,” whose screen writer, Justin Lance Black and whose leading actor, Sean Penn, both received Oscars.  In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. Milk’s legacy is immense, and it is only fitting that he is immortalized by this rare distinction in the Golden State.  Only John Muir has been so honored in California before Harvey.  Milk is the only gay person whose memory is enshrined in a day of festivities, education, activism, and remembrance statewide.  Notable among his words was the famous line he used so often to open his speeches, “I’m Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!”  Today, as California and and the nation at large struggle with the full inclusion and equality of LGBT people, racial ethnic minorities, women, and immigrants, nothing could be more pertinent than to recall Harvey’s life, and the qualities of passion and advocacy that continue to inspire and convert us to the cause of justice for all people.  First, Harvey Milk was not a quitter.  He ran unsuccessfully for public office multiple times, but refused to quit. The race for the finish line of justice is long, a relay, not a sprint, and he stayed the course until the voters caught up to him and to his vision of equality. Second, He refused to remain protected by the dubious security of the closet.  Openly and publicly, Harvey owned his identity and culture as a gay man before the world.  He called upon gays and lesbians everywhere to come out to everyone they knew, family, friends, co-workers, fellow students.  He knew that when LGBT people are known as the real human beings we are, it is harder to discriminate against us than if we are mysteriously hidden by fear. Third, he demanded respect and full equality.  Harvey knew that inequality for some of us–gay people, seniors, women, Asians, teamsters, youth–meant inequality for all of us. In his name, we should never support candidates or policies that compromise on equality for all. Rights are for all Americans alike–full rights, equal rights.  Fourth, Harvey Milk understood that political and social justice is all about hope.  “You gotta give ’em hope,” was Harvey’s most memorable mantra, and it remains true for today.  Hope for justice is not about optimism.  Optimism is shallow and may be easily frustrated by the unfairness of systems and circumstances.  Hope, on the other hand, is realistic and muscular.  Hopeful people are anything but passive.  They are engaged, as Harvey was, in the effort to make the world a better place, for hope’s sake.  Saturday, May 22 marks what would have been Harvey Milk’s 80th birthday.  He died an untimely, violent death.  But his life and legacy have paved the way for a better America, a more hopeful present, and full equality just over the horizon.  That is why in cities and towns all across the United States, Harvey’s hope is rippling out, expressed in events, festivals, teach-ins and social justice rallies to remember the Mayor of Castro Street.  Happy Birthday, Harvey!  Happy Harvey Milk Day to us all!

May 21, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, California, Harvey Milk Day, Politics, Popular Culture, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Milwaukee Trans Woman “+” Brutally Shot to Death in the Street

Chanel Larkin, FORGE photo

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – A struggle for the assailant’s .357-caliber pistol ended savagely for a Milwaukee trans woman of color on May 7.  Chanel Larkin (née Dana A. Larkin), 26, was shot three times in the head by a man who allegedly picked her up for sex, and offered her $20 to turn a trick.  Authorities contend that Andrew Olacirequi, who was cruising the vicinity for a prostitute, shot Larkin three times in the head when Larkin revealed to him that she was biologically male, according to EDGE Boston. Larkin’s lifeless body was found on the sidewalk along North 23rd Street. Olacirequi was arrested later than night at the scene of the crime when he returned to find a lost cell phone. Law enforcement has charged him with first-degree reckless homicide and use of a deadly weapon.  EDGE reports that he could face up to 65 years in prison for the crimes.  As is so often the situation in transphobic murder cases, law enforcement and media follow the sensational and freakish imaginings of the general public rather than seeking to learn about the real lives lost and the human struggles that trans people face every day of their lives in biased communities.  Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said to EDGE, “The media matters and phrases like ’cross-dressing prostitute’ are loaded terms playing to a victim-blaming stereotype or a ’transgender panic’ defense,” Silverman explained. “These types of stories play into the cultural stereotype of transgender people somehow committing fraud or trying to trick people, none of which is true.” Michael Munson, Executive Director of FORGE, (For Ourselves: Reworking Gender Expression), has worked tirelessly to express Chanel Larkin’s story to the media in a sensitive and meaningful way, pointing out that Ms. Larkin, who had identified as a woman since her mid-teens, was a vital young trans woman of color who never deserved to die at the hands of transphobic violence.  Munson and FORGE decry the way some mainstream media have mis-characterized Ms. Larkin as “a man posing as a woman.”  She was a trans+ person, according to FORGE standards of address.  “People are much more complex than a set of words and labels,” the FORGE website points out. “‘+’ indicates an expansiveness that words cannot capture, recognizing and welcoming the beautiful diversity within our community.” Chanel Larkin was beloved of her family, especially her siblings and her grandmother.  Over 200 people attended her funeral on May 14, and the trans+ community, as well as the African American, LGBT and entertainment communities are bereaved and deeply affected by her passing.  Ms. Larkin’s story is all-to-familiar on the mean streets of America.  She lived at the crossing point of oppressions: female, trans, black, and poor.  At some point, she resorted to sex work to pay her bills and make a living in a down economy that set the background for the violence she had to risk every day of her too-short life. Speaking to EDGE, Brenda Coley, a staff member at Diverse and Resilient who knew Ms. Larkin, said, “We have to stand up as a [LGBT] community and speak out against this. I hope we’ll see how we’re all really connected and how the problems a person or group of people face are not walled off within that group but permeate through the whole society. None of us are free if some of us are not,” Coley added. “These are not throw-away members of our community. These are precious lives.” Chanel Larkin was not responsible for her death. She fought to live when her alleged assailant pulled his gun on her. She also fought to survive as an authentic person amidst an epidemic of anti-trans violence in a state that has never applied its hate crime statute to any LGBT person, according to activists in Milwaukee. Pressure from trans and LGBT advocates is mounting on the district attorney to designate her murder as a hate crime, and to prosecute her alleged murderer as a hate-killer under the law.  But the ongoing struggle for justice in Milwaukee and around the country will continue to be against poverty, racism, sexism, and prejudice against trans people, whether it comes from the straight or the gay community. Chanel Larkin is beyond harm now. It remains for the living to struggle in her name against the fear and injustice that took her life and the lives of  hundreds like her around the world.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Character assassination, funerals, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Popular Culture, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dallas Police To Investigate Cedar Springs Area Ball Bat Attack as a Hate Crime

photo courtesy Dallas News

Dallas, TX – In an important change in attitude and approach concerning the late Friday night/Saturday morning assault on two gay men by bat swinging attackers, the Dallas Police Department has released a statement dated May 17 indicating that the case is to be investigated as a “hate crime.”  Apparently, a combination of rational reasoning and responsiveness to a groundswell of protest in the LGBT community led authorities to change course on this dangerous incident just two and a half blocks from the main gay entertainment district in Dallas.  The Cedar Springs-Wycliff corridor has been particularly violent in recent months, and has a particularly bloody history of anti-LGBT attacks and murder stretching back over two decades.  Historically, homophobic elements have targeted gays and lesbians in the “gayborhood,” and this most recent attack is an ominous sign that young men who are hateful, ignorant and insecure are coming to the neighborhood to locate victims again.  Police initially told WFAA.com that the baseball bat beating of  Kyle Steven Wear and his companion Alex would not be investigated as an anti-gay hate crime, since the pair were robbed. Both victims reported to police and the media that they were not only assaulted physically, but were subject to hate speech during the attack, being called “faggots” among other derogatory slurs by their assailants.  Most current merchants and visitors to the gay entertainment district are unaware that the Oak Lawn-Cedar Springs-Reverchon Park area of Dallas has been bloodied far too often by violence against LGBT people.  In 1988, John Griffin and Tommy Trimble, two gay men, were picked up at the Crossroads by Richard Lee Bednarski, an 18-year-old high school student from Mesquite, who drove them the short distance to Reverchon Park where he shot them to death.  The judge in the case gave Bednarski only a 30-year sentence for the cold-blooded murders, commenting that the killings were insignificant since the victims were gay.  In 1991, Thanh Nguyen and Hugh Calloway were gunned down by Corey Ardell Burley, 20, and two other accomplices at Reverchon Park.  Calloway survived to testify against Burley, but Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant to the Dallas area, died as a result of his wounds.  Initially, Dallas police refused to classify the murder as hate-motivated, but Burley confessed that he targeted the gay men because they were “weak.”  Jimmy Lee Dean, a self-identified bisexual man, was nearly killed in 2008 by 26-year-old Bobby Jack Singleton and 31-year-old Jonathan Russell Gunter, both of Garland, at the corner of Dickason and Throckmorton Streets. Robberies and assaults by thugs targeting young gay men along the Strip are far more frequent than merchants and residents would care to admit, including an attack on a minor on Cedar Springs in the early Spring of this year whose complaint to Dallas police was minimized because, as one officer told the youth, he was just a “drunk little faggot,” and deserved what he got. It is some measure of hope that the Dallas Police have either chosen to change their approach to the homophobic robbery of the two most recent gay victims of violence in the gayborhood, or have been coerced into it by the growing outcry from the local LGBT community.  In part, the Dallas Police Department bulletin entitled “Weekend Robberies to be Investigated as Hate Crimes” reads: “Early Saturday morning just after midnight, two 28 year old males were walking to a nightclub in the 2700 block of Throckmorton Street when they were confronted by four unknown Latin male suspects. Two of the suspects were carrying bats. All four suspects began to beat the victims with the bats and their hands while robbing the victims of their property. Both victims sustained non life threatening injuries. These offenses are documented on case numbers 134186-X and 134193-X. Based on derogatory statements made by the suspects during the commission of the robberies, these two offenses will be investigated as hate crimes. There have been no suspects identified at this time and detectives are continuing to interview witnesses.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Beatings and battery, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, gay men, gay teens, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dallas Police To Investigate Cedar Springs Area Ball Bat Attack as a Hate Crime

Ball Bat Attackers Immune from Hate Crimes Charges?: Authorities Backpedal on Anti-Gay Violence

Big Stick Combat photo

Dallas, TX – What does a midnight assault on two Dallas gay men Friday have in common with a December 2008 fatal attack on two Latinos mistaken as gay in Brooklyn, New York?  Two things: first, both attacks were carried out by homophobes yelling anti-gay slurs as they swung baseball bats at the heads of their victims; and second, police in both cases classified neither assault as an anti-hate crime. What gives? What does it take to get officers of the law to prosecute hate crimes under existing hate crime statutes? While Dallas and Brooklyn are 1370 miles distant from each other and worlds apart culturally, they both have law enforcement resistant to investigate crimes against gay men as bias-motivated.  The 2008 Brooklyn murder of José Sucuzhañay serves as an eerily familiar backdrop to the current Dallas attack on Kyle Steven Wear and his friend Alex. Like Dallasites Kyle and Alex, the Ecuadoran immigrant brothers José and Romel were walking together down the street in the wee hours of the night.  The Brooklyn crime was carried out by two assailants swinging a broken beer bottle and an aluminum baseball bat, yelling anti-gay and anti-hispanic epithets.  Trials in the Sucuzhañay case are proceeding right now in Brooklyn, where Hakim Scott has just been convicted of first-degree manslaughter, and his accomplice, Keith Phoenix, awaits an new court date since the New York judge dismissed all hate crimes charges and declared a mistrial because of a juror in the first Phoenix trial who refused to participate any further.  The Brooklyn ball bat attack left José lingering five days in a coma from a broken skull before he died.  The consensus of the supporters of Sucuzhañay family, outraged city officials, and the metropolitan New York media is that this ugly, brutal attack took place because Scott and Phoenix targeted two Hispanic men whom they mistook for gay because they didn’t like the way they looked.  Wear and his friend Alex (last name still unreleased) were much more fortunate.  As they walked along in the southwestern part of the Cedar Springs gay entertainment district in Dallas, “the gayborhood,” headed for the bars, four assailants only identified as Latinos wearing white tee-shirts, blindsided the pair shouting “Faggots, give us your fucking wallets!” according to WFAA News. Wear told WFAA on camera that he was knocked unconscious and his jaw was broken by one of the attackers swinging a ball bat.  His friend, Alex, reported that he feared for his life as the homophobes forced him to the ground.  The Dallas Police are refusing to classify the case as a hate crime, contending instead that the motive was to rob the gay men.  But Alex isn’t buying it.  He told Jonathan Betz of WFAA, “I still feel like that was why we were targeted in the first place, because we are gay. It was like it was funny to them.”  John Wright of the Dallas Voice is outraged that the authorities have resisted investigating the Dallas ball bat assault as an anti-gay bias crime.  In a May 16 post for the Dallas Voice blog, Instant Tea, he writes, “Despite the fact that the suspects yelled anti-gay slurs as they beat the victims with baseball bats, Dallas police have not classified the incident as a hate crime, which is an outrage.”  Wright points out that Jimmy Lee Dean was nearly beaten and stomped to death in the same general neighborhood by two homophobic attackers in July 2008.  Wright then shows that regardless of the refusal of Dallas law authorities to enforce Texas hate crimes law, federal hate crimes protections should kick in.  The James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 classifies a hate crime as motivated in whole or in part by anti-LGBT bias. One major determining criterion of an anti-gay hate crime for the FBI is the use of epithets as the perpetrators carried out the crime.  Anti-LGBT hate crimes are like the rest of life: seldom pure and simple.  Other motives often accompany hate violence against gays, lesbians, and transgender persons: robbery, drugs, racism and sexism, to name a few.  But homophobia and heterosexism, like a sinister bass line in a libretto, thread throughout all anti-LGBT hate crimes cases, targeting people who are assumed to be inferior, impure, and abominable because of their perceived sexuality.  In Dallas and in Brooklyn, it seems baseball bats and anti-gay epithets are not enough to launch hate crimes prosecutions.  Are anti-gay sluggers simply immune in Texas and New York? Again we ask, What does it take to get officers of the law to prosecute hate crimes under existing hate crime statutes? It takes an outcry from LGBT people and their allies so that law enforcement will not be permitted to backpedal on hate crimes against members of the sexual minority without a stink being raised to high heaven. If police and prosecutors are unfamiliar with what LGBT bias crimes are, they are responsible to educate themselves. If they are being intentionally obstructionist, then the mayor and the city council need to replace them with officials who will carry out the law.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Bludgeoning, Brooklyn, Ecuador, FBI, gay men, Hate Crimes, Latino and Latina Americans, Latinos, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, Mistaken as LGBT, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Racism, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ball Bat Attackers Immune from Hate Crimes Charges?: Authorities Backpedal on Anti-Gay Violence

Rabid Anti-Gay Agenda at Coral Ridge “Ministries”: Radical Right Seeks to Fill Coffers Again

Jarrett Terrill photo

Fort Lauderdale, FL – A right-wing political machine in South Florida, operating under the cover of a church, has recently launched a full-throated anti-gay propaganda campaign to over 20 million supporters worldwide.  Coral Ridge Ministries, working within the shadow of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a 2,200 member church, is reaching out through video and internet media to tub-thump its latest tirades against what CRM leaders call “the militant homosexual agenda.”  As Jarrett Terrill of South Florida Gay News writes in a recent exposé of this organization, “The political think-tank operates under the guise of a church, allowing them to use an excess of $45 Million dollars in tax-deductable donations annually for maximum outreach. Bypassing all campaign finance laws, a political media center which calls itself a church can effectively control our nation’s political dialogue in ways that most political action committees could only dream of.” Broadcasting from a fortress mentality claiming superior patriotism and Christian orthodoxy, the Coral Ridge sect seeks to replenish its depleted coffers by pumping up the fear factor among Tea Party members and more traditional gay-hating citizens.  In one of its recent shows, CRM claims, “The militant homosexual agenda is a symptom of sexual politics… Sexual politics always trumps religious liberty. Hate crime laws are turning Christians into second class citizens.”  Dr. D. James Kennedy built the Coral Ridge congregation by a peculiar blend of right-wing politics and Protestant evangelical theology from the 1960’s until his death in 2007.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kennedy founded Coral Ridge Ministries which has become one of the largest Christian fundamentalist political organizations in the country, “with some 160 employees, several divisions including a Washington-based Center for Christian Statesmanship, and radio and television studios producing shows that reach a combined weekly audience of 3 million.” After Kennedy’s death from a heart attack, the church, under the leadership of their new pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has moved away from some of the more radical political efforts of CRM.  A church schism, led by Kennedy’s daughter and five other right-wing dissidents, challenged Tchividjian, and when they failed to get him fired, split from Coral Ridge to found a new congregation of their own with around 400 supporters.  Since early 2009, after being shaken by the church fight, Coral Ridge Ministries has gone back to the well of homophobic scare tactics to shore up its base financially.  A typical program of CRM prior to the passage of the James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, claimed  erroneously in March 2009 that the law “is directed at thought. It is directed at a coerced, forced belief that homosexuality is right and normal and should be acceptable for all.”  Warning that the “militant homosexual agenda” placed American civil liberties in jeopardy, the program script continued, “Can you imagine a hate crime bill that criminalizes a person for sharing hope, for reaching out in love to tell someone how Jesus Christ changed their life?” asks program host Dr. Jerry Newcombe. “It’s unimaginable, and yet, it’s not far-fetched. In many countries, it’s already a reality. Now the same could happen here.”  Alongside its fear-mongering around LGBT human rights, Coral Ridge Ministries currently ties the Obama administration with “socialism” and “totalitarianism,” linking the old “red scare” tactics of the 1950’s and -60’s to the newer anti-gay “pink scare.”  Though carefully distancing themselves from the Christian Reconstructionist roots of the Coral Ridge movement that included advocating the extermination of LGBT people, adulterers, “witches,” “sorcerers,” and dissenters, the inflamed hate speech generated by CRM underpins the extreme logic of people who justify violence against gay people. The relationship between religious hate speech like that generated at CRM and anti-LGBT hate crimes is a hotly debated topic in ethical, human rights, and theological circles, but a growing consensus is that hate speech coupled with fear does lead to hate violence. Jarrett Terrill of SFGN.com concludes his post with a summation of the fear-culture of Coral Ridge Ministries, and a pointed question about their prospects of re-igniting the anti-gay agenda of the religious right: “The people at CRM have chosen to re-write world history from their own isolationist and self-victimizing viewpoint. For them, to be Christ-like means only that they practice martyrdom – that they somehow view themselves not as millionaires who have more influence on the world than anyone else, but rather as the poor, persecuted minority who are being oppressed by an all-powerful, evil, homosexual majority.

“The only question left to answer is – who’s really buying into this or believing any of it?”

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Florida, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, Politics, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hoosier Gay Man Beaten To Death

Fort Wayne, IN – A gay man described as “a kind and gentle soul” was kicked and beaten to death at a birthday party in Huntertown early on Sunday morning.  Paul Michalik, 36, was found dead on the lawn of Brian Paul Brothers, 34, according to reports on Wane.com.  The Allen County Coroner has ruled that a blow to Michalik’s head was the cause of death.  Michalik, a popular and well liked employee at a local spa and salon, went to the party in the wee hours of Sunday morning at the Brothers’ home with a mutual friend, Jerry Lee Chambers. At some point in the party, Brothers ferociously attacked both Michalik and Chambers for causes that are still under investigation, and while law enforcement officials have not  yet formally charged Brothers in the fatal incident, Chambers says that he attacked them because they were gay.  In what Brothers told police was “an all out altercation,” he admitted hitting Michalik multiple times in the head, face, and body, and kicking him multiple times, as well. In his statement to police, Chambers said that he tried to get Michalik outside the house while Brothers rained punches at his head and face, and delivered blows to his body.  Brothers allegedly turned on Chambers, too, so severely that Chambers had to “play dead” to avoid further injury.  While he was on the floor playing dead, Chambers said that he could hear air expelling from Michalik’s body as Brothers kicked him repeatedly in the ribs.  After Brothers’ rage finally exhausted, Chambers says that he and Brothers carried Michalik’s unresponsive body out on the lawn in the darkness.  Brothers allegedly went back into his house, leaving the dying man on the grass without calling for medical help for either of his victims.  At 4 a.m., police responded to a call from the Huntertown address, and found Chambers wounded and Michalik dead.  Reflecting on the severity of the attack, Dr. Jeannie DeClementi, an assistant professor of psychology at IPFW, and a human rights advocate, told Wane.com, “That’s an enormous amount of rage behind that. That’s pretty incredible. When you put it together with the amount of rage and with the violence of the crime, and you add that up with the fact that the victim is gay, I think you have to consider that [the attack was a hate crime],” said DeClementi. A co-worker of Brothers who attended the party but refused to go on camera said to News 15 that the fight started because Chambers and Michalik kept making homosexual passes at guests, and refused to leave the house. This type of accusation, claiming that the victim of an anti-LGBT hate crime is somehow responsible for the violence visited on him, is called the “gay panic defense,” a tactic that is familiar in hate crimes cases across the nation, but has largely been discredited in courts of law.  Indiana’s News Center has learned that Brothers will be formally charged on Thursday.  He is currently being held without bond on a probation violation charge. Brien McElhatten and Scott Sarvay of the News Center report, “While Indiana has no specific hate crime legislation, President Obama signed a federal law into action in 2009 making criminal acts motivated by sexual orientation a federal crime. However, federal charges will not come into play, because the offender must cross state boundaries in the process of committing the crime, according to Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison.” The prosecutor will have to make the determination whether to charge Brothers with a hate crime.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, gay men, gay panic defense, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Indiana, Law and Order, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hoosier Gay Man Beaten To Death

Puerto Rican Teen Killer Pleads Guilty, Gets 99 Years for Hate Murder

Jorge Steven López Mercado

Caguas, Puerto Rico – In a stunning development, Juan José Martínez Matos, sole suspect in the “Silence of the Lambs style” butchery of gay teenager, Jorge Steven López Mercado, pled guilty to murder during a hearing today. Michael Lavers, news editor of EDGE Boston broke the story in the U.S. blogosphere.  Though Martínez Matos was to stand trial for the grisly November 2009 murder on May 17, he entered the guilty plea to bring judicial proceedings to an end.  Lavers reports, “Martínez told the court he understood the consequences of his actions, and Judge Miriam Camila Jusino immediately sentenced him to 99 years in prison.” Investigators believe that Martínez Matos stabbed the gender-non-conforming López Mercado to death before decapitating and dismembering the body which he then attempted to immolate on a lonely roadside near the mountain village of Cayey on November 12, 2009.  News of the horrible murder swept the island, and shocked thousands on the U.S. mainland.  Scores of vigils and demonstrations called upon Puerto Rican authorities to invoke a hate crimes statute never used to protect LGBT people, though it was written for that purpose in 2002.  The blatant homophobia of the crime was confirmed by Martínez Matos when he confessed today that he hated gay people, but had offered to exchange cocaine for sex with the gay youth. According to the Associated Press, Attorney Celimar Gracia, representing Martínez Matos, told Primera Hora newspaper that prosecutors dropped several weapons-violation charges in exchange for the plea.  In the best interests of his client, he said, this was the best way to bring this case to a close. LGBT human rights advocates feared that the religiously conservative Puerto Rican public would be swayed by the introduction of the “homosexual panic” defense by Martínez Matos.  The suspect contended that he was “cruising for sex” in an area known for prostitution when he met the gay teen, whom Martínez Matos claimed he thought was a woman.  365gay reported in November that when López Mercado’s murderer learned the youth was actually gay, he “flashed back” to a homosexual rape he had reportedly suffered while in prison on an earlier charge, and killed the boy out of uncontrolled rage.  When the “homosexual panic” strategy seemed not to catch hold sufficiently in the media, Martínez Matos’ defense team requested and got a psychological evaluation of their client to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial. It was determined that he was indeed sane and able to stand trial for the slaying.  The López Mercado murder is easily the most notorious anti-LGBT hate crime killing in Puerto Rico’s history, and supporters of the youth’s family did not want the murderer to escape justice by putting the blame upon Jorge Steven for his own death.  The dramatic confession in Caguas today removed that possibility. Pedro Julio Serrano, representing the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Puerto Rico, a leading LGBT rights advocate, told the AP that there was not a dry eye in the courtroom when the guilty plea was entered. “Nothing is going to bring Jorge Steven back, but today, a bit of justice was done,” Serrano said.  Primera Hora, according to Lavers of the EDGE, reported that the slain gay teen’s parents, Miriam Mercado and Juan López, reached out to their son’s murder with words of faith.  Full of emotion, López Mercado said, “I want to send a message to Juan (Casper) and tell him there is hope in Christ. The Lord has forgiveness for him, irregardless of what has happened. God has a plan for him if he opens his heart to Christ. God will forgive him also.” Speaking to the EDGE, Pedro Julio Serrano commented  on the confession today, saying, “The [López Mercado] family is sending a powerful message to the world of the love that conquers hate. It was very emotional and it brings some closure, but those wounds will never heal.” In his official statement as spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Founder of the human rights organization Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, Serrano summed up the importance of the Martínez Matos confession, its impact on the family and friends of the slain gay youth, and the task remaining for people who struggle against homophobia and transphobia in the U.S. Territory: “This was a brutal crime, and today’s developments have been very emotional for Jorge Steven’s family and friends, as well as to the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Puerto Rico. While the guilty plea and sentencing bring some closure, these wounds will never heal for those who knew and loved Jorge Steven. Yet, despite how heart-wrenching this has all been, Jorge Steven’s family has been so loving and strong; they have been and continue to be a symbol of love conquering hate. This has inspired me and so many others in our work to keep this from happening again.”

May 12, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Character assassination, Decapitation and dismemberment, desecration of corpses, gay panic defense, gay teens, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Media Issues, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, transphobia, Uncategorized, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Puerto Rican Teen Killer Pleads Guilty, Gets 99 Years for Hate Murder

Outrageous Verdict in the Sucuzhañay Hate Murder Case; Con Escapes Life Sentence

Keith Phoenix (l) and Hakim Scott (r) - NYPD mugshots

Brooklyn, NY – Testimony in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court corroborated Romel Sucuzhañay’s contention, that two young men attacked him and his brother, José Sucuzhañay, wielding a broken beer bottle and an aluminum base ball bat, screaming anti-Latino and anti-gay slurs.  The assault left José with a broken skull.  The Ecuadoran immigrant, 31 years old, living in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, lingered in a coma for five days, dying just before his mother got to his bedside from Ecuador.  Any reasonable person would call that a hate crime.  Not the Brooklyn jury, however.  They bought the defense line, that Hakim Scott, 26, was caught up in an unfortunate “escalating fight.”  It did not seem to matter that a the prosecution established that Scott, who broke his beer bottle over José’s head before menacing Romel with the jagged glass, had dazed José to the point that his accomplice, Keith Phoenix, had an easy target as he lethally swung his bat.  On May 6, the jury found Scott guilty, not of first or second degree murder and hate crime, but first degree manslaughter, allowing him to escape a life sentence for snuffing out an innocent man’s life.  Scott and Phoenix didn’t like the Sucuzhañay brothers because they were Hispanic, and they appeared to be gay.  While Scott will face a possible 40 years in prison for his manslaughter conviction when he is sentenced on June 9, it is hard not to say that there was a travesty of justice in this case.  Now, because a juror refused to hear any more testimony in the Phoenix case, Judge Patricia Dimango has declared a mistrial, and the Sucuzhañay family and their supporters will have to wait further agonizing weeks to learn whether the 31-year-old  ball bat perp will escape the full force of the law, too.  Latinos, especially Ecuadorans, are outraged by the verdict.  So are LGBT people.  And justice has not been done for José Sucuzhañay.  It seems that living at the intersection of two discriminations is very dangerous place to be in America.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, Brooklyn, Ecuador, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Latinos, Law and Order, Mistaken as LGBT, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Racism, Slurs and epithets, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Outrageous Verdict in the Sucuzhañay Hate Murder Case; Con Escapes Life Sentence

Slain Ecuadoran’s Supporters Denounce One Brooklyn Verdict; Await Another

Hakim Scott listens to closing arguments in his trial for the murder of José Sucuzhañay (Ward photo for the Daily News)

Brooklyn, NY – Hakim Scott, 26, killer of Ecuadoran Immigrant José Sucuzhañay, escaped conviction for murder, but was convicted of manslaughter by a jury in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday.  No hate charge was sustained against Scott for the brutal slaying of the 31-year-old Sucuzhañay, who along with his brother Romel was mistaken as a gay man. The brothers were walking arm-in-arm against the cold early on December 7, 2008 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn when Hakim and Keith Phoenix, hurling anti-gay and anti-hispanic epithets, attacked them with a beer bottle, their heavily shod feet, and an aluminum baseball bat.  Family and friends of the victim swiftly denounced the verdict as soft and wrong-headed, according to several news sources.  The New York Daily News reports that José’s brother Diego, vigorously maligned the verdict, saying, “There was testimony that these words of hate were used. We believe right now would have been a perfect time to send a message against hate, intolerism [sic] and racism.” On Friday, the Columbus, IN Republic interviewed Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, as she stood with Sucuzhañay’s three brothers outside the courthouse, “Look, two brothers were walking home. They weren’t bothering anybody. All of a sudden two guys jump out of a car and beat José and leave him for dead, calling him anti-gay and anti-immigrant names? That’s a hate crime,” she said. The Latin American Herald Tribune reported that Quinn further defined what kind of hate crime Sucuzhañay suffered: “Jose Sucuzhañay was murdered because Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix did not like who he is and who they thought he was,” Quinn said. “And they attacked him, by all accounts, for no other reason than their hatred of the LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) community and their hatred of Latinos and immigrants. That’s what killed Jose Sucuzhañay.” Quinn, Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, and a number of other elected officials believe that the manslaughter verdict, which may entail a 25-year prison term for Scott, to be too lenient for such a savage killing. Diego, speaking for the Sucuzhañays on the courthouse steps during a Friday press conference, said, “The judicial system has failed to send a clear message.  Our family still can’t understand how the jury has come to the conclusion that the attack on my brothers and the murder of José was not motivated by hate,” according to the LAHT.  The trial of Keith Phoenix, who allegedly swung the bat so hard that it burst his victim’s skull, is still proceeding.  The 30-year-old African American is being tried before a second jury seated in the same courtroom as the jury that convicted Scott of manslaughter.  Phoenix is charged with murder and murder as a hate crime in the case.  Members of the Scott jury who were willing to speak to the press speculated that Phoenix may likely be convicted of a hate crime for his part in the grisly bludgeoning of the Ecuadoran businessman.  A verdict in his trial is expected sometime next week. As supporters await the Phoenix verdict, Walter Sinche, Director of the international Ecuadoran Alliance told a reporter for the Daily News, “Someday maybe we’ll get justice. Hopefully, these types of attacks will stop.”

May 8, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, Ecuador, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latinos, Law and Order, Mistaken as LGBT, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Racism, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Slain Ecuadoran’s Supporters Denounce One Brooklyn Verdict; Await Another

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