Does New York Have an Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Problem?
Mounting reports of violent attacks in New York City and throughout New York have led to calls for greater engagement and recognition of what appears to be a worsening anti-LGBT hate crimes issue.
Last Tuesday, hundreds of New Yorkers from across the state converged on Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem to hold a candlelight vigil for Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old transgender woman who last month was the victim of a vicious and fatal bias-motivated attack.
Nettles was assaulted by 20-year-old Paris Wilson who, along with a group of friends, allegedly made a pass at Nettles before realizing she was transgender. The precise details of what followed is still for criminal prosecutors to decide but Wilson reportedly became enraged that the object of his affections was a trans woman and savagely beat her.
Nettles was transported to Harlem Hospital where she slipped into a coma. She was maintained on life support for a short time, but five days after the attack was declared brain dead, at which time life support was stopped and she died. Wilson, meanwhile, later turned himself in and was at first charged with third degree misdemeanor assault before evidence came to light of the bias motivations behind his attack. He is now facing upgraded charges and a possible hate crimes charge that would further elevate his sentence.
Nettles is not the only victim of violent attacks related to their identity.
Just before midnight on Saturday August 31, when Jared Fox of New York City was walking from his car toward a well known gay bar in Cleveland, NY, on West 93rd Street and Detroit Avenue, he was surrounded by a group of some 20 young men who began shouting gay slurs. They attacked Fox, punching him in the face repeatedly and knocking him to the ground. They beat him and then absconded with his mobile phone.
Fox reportedly suffered a black eye, a ruptured right ear drum which has led to some hearing loss, as well as many cuts and bruises. Police are investigating this as a possible hate crime.
On August 17, an interracial married couple walking with their gay friend were attacked outside a gay friendly bar in Long Island City, New York, by attackers who used racial and homophobic slurs. The heterosexual couple, Billie and Jacob James-Vogel, were not seriously hurt. Police have arrested Nikolaos Katsos, 28, who is charged with assault and harassment. There are calls for the incident to be investigated as a potential hate crime.
Earlier in August, gay couple Peter Notman and Michael Felenchak were attacked by a group of six men after leaving Chelsea Bowtie Cinemas on 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. At least one of the assailants had brass knuckles, leaving the victims with contusions, the need for an MRI and stitches.
In May, Mark Carson, 32, was walking on W. Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue with his boyfriend when he was shot in the face and killed by 33-year-old Elliot Morales who, prior to the shooting, called Carson a “queer” and a “faggot.” Carson’s boyfriend survived the attack. The incident is being treated as a hate crime.
If this picture sounds bad, that’s because it definitely is concerning.
While overall hate crimes appear to be down in the state, anti-LGBT attacks have risen quite sharply. When this picture first emerged in May, anti-violence groups were more cautious, saying that, overall, numbers were not radically inflated over previous years. That no longer seems to be the case.
In 2012, the New York Police Department investigated a total of 54 hate crimes against gay people. So far in 2013, there have already been 68 anti-gay incidents which, if that rate continues, means the city could conceivably see double the number of anti-gay hate crimes by the end of 2013.
It should also be noted that 53% of LGBT biased-crime homicide victims during 2012 were transgender women like Islan Nettles, according to the National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs, and it is already well established that trans women of color are at a significantly higher risk of facing serious violent attacks than almost any other demographic.
“I would argue it’s worse both in number and severity,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is quoted as saying on the anti-LGBT hate crimes figures. “I mean, a man was shot in Greenwich Village because he was gay. I thought those days were long behind us.”
“These attacks are hateful, ugly and un-New York,” mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is quoted as saying. “New Yorkers have a right to live free from violence and fear. We must do more to affirm that right, by bringing more security cameras into the NYPD network so we can find perpetrators more quickly, and by joining police and communities in closer cooperation.”
Anti-violence groups have warned against overestimating the threat, however. While of course any hate crime or violent attack is concerning, the numbers of bias-motivated crimes remain relatively low throughout the state as a whole, while the number of investigations into bias-motivated crimes due to increased sensitivity to the issue may have increased.
That said, the sheer volume of potential or actual anti-LGBT hate crime incidents this year has raised calls for NYC and New York officials and legislators to take proactive steps to tackle the issue of hate crimes through, among other things, youth education and public outreach, this so that 2014 does not continue the trend of rising violence that has been seen this year.
Image credit: Thinkstock.