Yesterday, Alex Marin wrote the important piece “4 Hate Crimes That Rocked NYC Over the Course of the Last Two Weeks,” alerting us to the pandemic that many New Yorkers probably thought of as isolated instances of disease.
For those who haven’t heard, there was another attack to add to the list in the East Village on Monday night. That systematic hatred fuels these crimes is undeniable — and symptomatic of a growing divide. Gay bashing has flared up many times in New York over the past decade. In 2006, three men lured another into a rest stop in Brooklyn with the promise of a date via an online connecting site; they mugged him and chased him into traffic where he was hit and killed. In 2010, a Bronx gang, fueled by anti-gay sentiment, brutally beat and tortured four victims, while two other men were accused of assault for the same reasons and in the same week at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich — the birthplace of gay resistance to police brutality in June 1969.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly reports that there have been 22 homophobic crimes this year, up "significantly" from thirteen this time last year. According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, a group that tracks hate crime reports against the LGBTQ community, there’s been a steady rise over the past two years. How could it be that hate crimes are on the rise when our society is becoming progressively more tolerant?
As we collectively grow more accepting of homosexuality, both in the media and at the policy level — eleven states have now legalized gay marriage — the backlash may be anticipated. So the question we are frustratingly left with is: what do we, on the winning side of the battle for equality, do in the face of its violent antithesis?
As I read Alex’s article my eyes wandered south of that sacrosanct line at the bottom of the text and the beginning of the comment section. I’ve been allowing them to do that less and less because of the potential for undue influence and the negativity that often pervades. Sure enough, the first comment was about how these victims would have been better off had they been carrying guns. While I tend to fall squarely on the other side of the victim-blaming/gun-carrying-to-combat-violence divide, I couldn’t help but be moved by the sentiment. It mirrored an anger in me that I had, reading through the four reports and seeing the procession of pictures — of lives lost, bodies beaten, spirits trampled, justice undone.
So is that the answer? Should violence beget more violence? The question has plagued me since I walked by Carson’s vigil on Saturday night. And it’s a tough one.
I met a good friend the next day for breakfast. To be honest, I don’t know him all that well yet. But I already know he’s a good friend. Because when my girlfriend showed him the picture of the placard we had to pass by the night before, “A Gay Man Was Brutally Murdered Here,” he was the one who brought me back from anger.
I had fallen into a particularly vengeful script: “We need to get to the point where the world doesn’t attack a man for love, but rather for hatred. We need to marginalize these homophobes until they don’t feel entitled to spout their vitriolic nonsense on the street, much less act on it. Why isn’t there a lynch mob out hunting for these bigoted criminals in Greenwich every night?”
My friend (ironically he’s a former professional baseball player, boxer, MMA fighter, and self-admitted adrenaline junkie) pointed me toward the narrow path, the one that’s a lot harder to walk, and can only be seen in the light of peace. He reminded me of the good Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The most powerful thing two gay men can do to fight their oppression when someone yells "faggot" at them as they walk down the street is to keep on walking, hand-in-hand. My baseball friend told me that. You just keep on walking. Until your oppressors become so marginalized that they don’t exist. That’s freedom’s march. And that’s the lesson to remember — not just the beaten faces of Nick Porto and Kevin Atkins as they lie in their hospital bed, but the love they share; remember that their love can drive out the hate. We should honor Mark Carson’s memory, not in vengeance, but in love. His legacy should strengthen our collective resolve for peace. Eventually, the hatred will dissipate. And when it lifts and the dust doesn’t resettle, that’s when we’ve made it through. All that’s left is love.
What do we do while we wait? Do we just let men and women die? No, of course not. But we don’t seek revenge. And we don’t go on a shooting spree. We let the police do their jobs and find these people. Arrest them. Read them their Miranda rights, give them the chance to seek legal counsel, ensure they get all of the Due Process owed to them by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and by Article I, § 6 of the New York State Constitution. We give them a trial. We let them lamely try to justify their actions and, in so doing, draw out their hatred for all the world to see.
We lock them up for a long time and show how petty and small they are in their orange jumpsuits coming to and from court — a symbol to the other homophobes out there who haven’t been so bold to act on their hatred yet. We give these people just enough rope to hang themselves. We aren’t the lynch mob. We’re the only thing that stands between the lynch mob and the next Mark Carson. We’re the people that believe in justice, always with a view to peace. We keep walking. Hand in hand. Until those who can’t keep up, or don’t want to grab on, fall behind and are forgotten.
I know that’s hard to accept. Especially for strong-willed New Yorkers. And that this sort of crime could happen in the heart of Greenwich Village — the first point of resistance in the gay-rights movement in New York— probably only exacerbates the impulse for revenge, for anger, for violence. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly gay person to hold that title, captured that internal dialectic at the vigil for Mark Carson: “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.”
Announcing an increase in police attention to the area, Quinn added that she thought homophobic crime has again risen “to a level of violence I thought was behind us.” Let’s keep walking forward together until it is behind us. For good.
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