NY Teens Charged with Hate Crime Killing
Six teens accused of beating and stomping an 18-year-old to death after crashing a party in Queens will face second-degree murder as hate crime charges, the Associated Press reported in a June 23 article. The young man they allegedly killed was heterosexual, but was apparently mistaken for gay by the assailants.
The victim, Anthony Collao, was at the March 12 party, which was hosted by two gay men. The invaders reportedly broke windows, scrawled on the walls with red markers, and made hand gestures associated with gangs. Collao attempted to leave the party peaceably, but the half-dozen men reportedly pursued him and, uttering anti-gay epithets, brutally assaulted him. Collao was reportedly punched, kicked, and stomped. One assailant was said to be carrying a pipe.
Details about the party were posted in advance on Facebook. The young men reportedly crashed the party, entering uninvited and without paying the cover fee. They then began their rampage, while shouting anti-gay invective.
"They called us homos and all kinds of stuff," said one witness.
The father of one suspect, Alex Velez, said that his son was a good student who was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," and claimed that his son was defending himself from an attack by Collao. Alex Velez was identified in media reports as the assailant who carried the pipe.
Ercina Rodriguez, the aunt of Nolis Ogando, another suspect, said that her nephew was innocent. "He said he was at a party and when he saw everyone run he ran too. He didn’t see anything." Rodriguez said that Ogando was "suicidal" after his arrest, and added that the suspect is not a physically imposing specimen: "He has chronic anemia and weighs like 80 pounds. He is not a gangbanger."
Collao was on life support until March 14, when he died in the hospital. The young man’s parents operate an ice cream establishment in Queens, though the family lives on Long Island. A neighbor said that Collao was "a very respectful, very friendly, very handsome young man."
"Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Thursday the defendants were each charged in a 21-count indictment that includes second-degree murder as a hate crime," the AP reported. "Brown said the charges were upgraded after new evidence from witnesses.
If convicted of the hate crimes charge, the six suspects could serve 25 years to life.
The attack was far from an isolated instance of violence. Several anti-gay attacks have taken place in Queens recently. Last December, two young men pled guilty to an attack on a gay man who he and another suspect robbed and beat in 2009 outside of a deli.
Daniel Aleman, 27, and Daniel Rodriguez, 22, carried out the assault on 50-year-old Jack Price early in the morning on Oct. 8, 2009. The attackers shouted anti-gay epithets as they punched and kicked Price, delivering a beating so severe that the older man spent weeks in the hospital with serious injuries, including a broken jaw, a punctured lung, and a lacerated spleen. The two attackers also stole Price’s wallet. Aleman addressed the court at his Dec. 13, 2009, sentencing, saying that he was drunk at the time of the attack and robbery.
"I’m very sorry for what I did," said Aleman, who had pleaded guilty to charges of robbery as a hate crime, and received the sentence of eight years plus five years of supervision after his prison term on Dec. 13. "I was drunk and I was under the influence," Aleman added. "I made a very big mistake."
Rodriguez similarly pleaded guilty.
The attack sparked a rally against hate crimes in Queens on Oct. 17, 2009, an earlier EDGE article reported. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, among other political figures, attended the rally, which was organized by openly gay schoolteacher Danny Dromm, now a member of the New York City Council.
The EDGE article noted that a series of anti-gay attacks had taken place in Queens prior to the beating Price suffered. "Trinidad Tapia and Gilberto Ortiz allegedly beat Leslie Mora with a belt buckle as she walked home from a Jackson Heights nightclub in June" of 2009, the article reported. "And Nathaniel Mims and Rasheed Thomas face hate crimes charges after they allegedly attacked Carmella Etienne with rocks and empty beer bottles on July 8 as she walked home from a store near her St. Albans apartment."
The article also cited the fatal attack in Brooklyn in late 2008. Two men attacked a heterosexual Ecuadorian immigrant, José Sucuzhañay, because they mistook him for a gay man.
Another Brooklyn man, Barie Shortell, was assaulted a few weeks before Collao was attacked. Shortell was so viciously beaten on Feb. 22 that he required $100,000 worth of surgery to repair the damage -- a sum well beyond his means to pay, since he was without insurance.
Shortell was about a block away from his home when he came across a gang of six teens. The youths shouted anti-gay taunts at him, and Shortell went out of his way to avoid trouble, crossing the street. But the youths came after him, threw him against the side of building, and launched into an assault so vicious that one surgeon compared the damage Shortell suffered to the aftermath of a car crash.
Surgeons put three metal plates on Shortell’s skull, and tended to his broken jaw. Shortell’s eye sockets were shattered and his nose broken.
"I feel pretty confident they perceived me as a gay man and attacked me, but I can’t understand why they did what they did," Shortell said.
The wave of anti-gay hate crimes that has swept New York in recent years prompted Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, to point to hate speech directed at gays and other minorities. Such speech is especially acute in election years, and a corresponding rise in bias-motivated violence reportedly accompanies politically motivated hate speech.
"That kind of hate speech," said Stapel, "gives people license to believe that it’s completely appropriate to be violent towards folks because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." Stapel made her comments before AVP’s Courage Awards at the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan on Oct. 18, 2010, an October 26, 2010, EDGE article noted. "There’s a direct connection. What we’re seeing as the LGBT civil rights movement advances in very meaningful ways, the backlash becomes more severe."
"Although the climate may be changing, as long as there are people spewing hatred towards our community, people will interpret that as license to hurt us or a license to torment us," said former AVP executive director David Wertheimer, who was on hand at the same news conference.
New Yorkers, and the nation, were shocked at vicious anti-gay assaults carried out last fall by a gang in the Bronx. Nine members of the Latin King Goonies suspected that one of their recruits might be gay, the Associated Press reported Oct. 8, 2010, and allegedly attacked the 17-year-old youth on Oct. 3, 2010. The gang beat the teen and sexually assaulted him with a plunger handle. A 30-year-old man whom the gang suspected the youth was involved with sexually was also targeted by the gang, and assaulted in much the same way as the teenager was. The older man’s brother was also assaulted in a home invasion undertaken by the gang.
The attacks in the Bronx took place only a few months after a July 7, 2010, incident on Staten Island in which a gang of about 40 young men and women attacked a gay couple. One of the gay men was left beaten and bleeding in a parking lot, according to a subsequent EDGE article from Oct. 21, 2010, that reported on the paucity of leads in the crime.
Another attack took place in the Stonewall Inn, the West Village establishment at the center of the historic Stonewall riots. Two men--Matthew Francis, 21, and Christopher Orlando, 17--reportedly beat a gay man as he stood at a urinal in the bar’s restroom, according to an Oct. 4, 2010 EDGE report.
The same EDGE article also reported that an anti-gay attack took place in Chelsea on Oct. 1, 2010, when several assailants, including Andrew Jackson, 20, set upon two gay males after seeing them kiss each other goodbye on the street.