NYPD responds with stepped up presence after anti-gay killing

The Associated Press

A spate of hate-fueled attacks on gay men in New York, including a killing in the heart of one of its most gay-friendly neighborhoods, is stirring up anxiety, disbelief and outrage heading into what is usually a time of gay Pride celebration.

In the wake of last weekend’s deadly shooting on a street in Greenwich Village, officials said that police would increase their presence in the Village and nearby neighborhoods through the end of June – gay Pride month.

A group that combats anti-gay violence planned to fan out to various areas on Friday nights through June to talk to people about safety. And public schools are being asked to hold assemblies or other discussions of hate crimes and bullying, before summer break.

City officials, gay-rights advocates and others marched to the shooting scene on May 20 to denounce a rise in hate crime reports in a city that generally sees itself as a capital of diversity and tolerance.

“I don’t know why it feels like we have taken a step backward, but that is the case, and what we’re going to do with that is push forward,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn – the first openly gay person to hold the post.

Officials and advocates can’t pinpoint a reason for the recent rash of attacks, or even whether it reflects more violence or more reporting of it. Police called the killing of Mark Carson early May 18 a hate crime.

In announcing plans for additional police attention, Quinn said she thought anti-gay crime “got to a level of violence I thought was behind us.”

The city and especially the Village have long been seen as beacons for gay people. The gay rights movement crystallized in the Village in June 1969, when a police raid at the Stonewall Inn touched off a riot and demonstrations that came to symbolize gays’ resistance to being relegated to society’s shadows.

Yet gay-bashing has continued to flare up in New York at times in recent years. In one particularly sinister case, three men connected with a 28-year-old man online in 2006, lured him to a rest stop off a Brooklyn highway with a promise of a date and mugged him, chasing him into traffic; he was hit and killed.

In 2010, authorities said Bronx gang members beat and tortured four people in an anti-gay rage, two men were accused of a gay-bashing beating at the Stonewall Inn itself and a man spewed homophobic insults while throwing a punch at another Village bar – all assaults that happened within little more than a week.

Police say there has been 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 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, says its numbers rose 13 percent in 2011 and 11 percent the previous year. The 2012 figures were not yet available.

Advocates see the incidents in the context of a culture that has grown more accepting of gays in some ways – 12 states have now legalized gay marriage – but doesn’t universally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation; some jurisdictions do, but others don’t.

“We have to ground this in the fact that, first, LGBT people still are without full equality in this country,” said Sharon Stapel, the Anti-Violence Project’s executive director.

Carson, 32, was followed and taunted before being shot in the face on a street blocks from the Stonewall Inn early May 18, police said. Carson had been walking with a companion. Suspect Elliot Morales is being held without bail on charges in Carson’s death. He hasn’t yet entered a plea.

The shooting came after other attacks fueled by anti-gay animus in recent weeks, authorities say. Those include a report last month of a man making anti-gay remarks and attacking a woman with a ketchup bottle at a Village diner; a man told police he and a friend were victims of a gay bashing outside a subway station in Midtown Manhattan this month; and two men walking arm-in-arm near Madison Square Garden report being jumped by a group of men on May 5, police said.

“This happened in Midtown, during the day, with a ton of people around,” one of the victims, Nick Porto, wrote in a Facebook posting. “… When are we safe?”

It’s a question the Anti-Violence Project hopes to help answer by sending staffers and volunteers out to various neighborhoods on Friday nights, starting this week, to engage gay people and others in conversation. The message: Stay safe, but also stay proud.

“We want to give people tools that can de-escalate situations but also say, ‘You need to be yourself,'” Stapel said. “We’re not telling people, ‘Take your rainbow sticker off.'”