Thursday, September 01, 2005

Days of mourning – Part 3: So what is, exactly, a ‘hate crime?’(and a prayer)

In New York State “a hate crime is committed when a person commits a ‘specified offense,’ such as murder, assault, kidnapping, arson, or other crimes against an individual because of his or her race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability, religion or religious practice or sexual orientation. The law enhances penalties by raising the specified offense one category higher when it is a misdemeanor or a class C, D, or E felony” (New York State Governor George Pataki signed a bill which included ‘sexual orientation’ to the state-wide hate crimes law on July 10, 2000 to great acclaim by some, the disappointment of others and the anger of yet others).

To my knowledge, on the night that Eddie Garzon was attacked, there were no eyewitnesses who could say, for sure, that any anti-gay slurs had been shouted or any concrete evidence that Eddie was targeted because he was a gay man (just rumors in the community that the men had shouted at each other in Spanish as they were jumping into the car). Nevertheless, within a couple of days the police had referred the case to the NYPD's Hate Crimes Task Force for investigation as a possible bias attack [SIDE NOTE: I for one, have always believed that it was a hate crime due to the severity of the beating or the “overkill” factor - for lack of a better expression - but R. (the man who was with him that night as they walked home) later told me that he doubted this theory and his parents would later tell me that they were also uncomfortable with calling it a ‘hate crime’ until more concrete evidence surfaced.]

So when the New York City Anti-Violence Project called a press conference the day after the attack most of the focus was on the possibility that a bias crime had been committed and not necessarily on Eddie’s identity. Joining them were community activists Jimmy Van Bramer (then a candidate to the City Council and now a State Committeeman) and Danny Dromm (a current District Leader in Queens), members of the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee (which Danny led at that time), Eddie Valentin and Cassimiro Villa (the owners of Friend's Tavern), Councilmember Christine Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane. These are people that I know personally and who know me for my work so for years I remained angry that they had not reached out to members of the local Latino LGBT community aside from the owners of Friend's (who are incredible community supporters in their own right). If they had they might have learned of Eddie's connection to the community. But nowdays I am glad that they called immediate attention to the attack and for the fact that the owners of Friend's Tavern and Barbara Ann Perrina (then at the Lambda Treatment Center and Recovery Program) offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the attackers' arrests.
The mass at the chapel inside Elmhurst Hospital seemed like a Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA) reunion. There were people who I hadn’t seen in years and the room was packed with Eddie’s friends. It was the first time that I had seen Marlene Forero since 1997 and the first time I had a chance to meet Leonor and Armando Garzon, Eddie’s parents. I had already been warned that Eddie’s family wasn’t comfortable with the fact that their son’s sexuality was so out in the open in the newspaper articles about the attack. Apparently his father only found out Eddie was gay through the news reports. But most of the room was filled with a great number of sobbing young men and Marelene’s female friends.

For the parents, who had traveled from Florida after recently arriving from Colombia – and who had not been privy to this side of Eddie’s acquaintances and friends – it must have been difficult to sort out who was truly close to their son. It must have also been uncomfortable to face the fact that Eddie had so many friends who were gay. That night, we were all praying for his prompt recovery and to bring his family strength. Eddie still laid in a coma and both Marlene and his parents held hope that he would wake up. By then I had already started making plans for a vigil to draw additional attention to the attack and put pressure on the NYPD to act on it. Others, like Chueca bar, Friend's Tavern and the performers Alex de Costa Rica, Lorena St. Cartier, Kiara Monteiro and Mario de Colombia were already planning a fundraiser to help the family with hospital costs.

Leaving the Elmhurst Hospital chapel after meeting Eddie Garzon’s parents, I walked up the street and looked up at the 2nd floor rooms, the ones holding patients in intensive care. Marlene had invited me to go up to see him but I wasn’t ready to see him yet. She had told me about just how swollen his face was and how he didn’t look at all like Eddie. Aparently he had also suffered some chest bruises from the beating. So I chose to stand outside in the dark looking up at that square of light emanating from the second window to the left, knowing that he was there, hooked up to the machines that were keeping him alive, praying for him to get better, even though I have never been a religious man.

In the meantime, things kept getting blurrier. Initially the theory was that the car that had stopped while Eddie was urinating near “Vaseline Alley” might have been the same car that he faced down one block down the street (they would just have to sped up around the block to get to the corner where the bank video showed the face-down between Eddie and the people in the car). But R. (the person who was with him at the time) said that he didn’t think it was the same car. The actual catalyst for the attack might have been not so much the fact that Eddie was gay but the fact that Eddie has stoped to stare-down some people inside a parked car.

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