Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jury convicts Keith Phoenix of murder as a hate crime

A Brooklyn jury found a man guilty of murder as a hate crime in connection with José Sucuzhañay’s death.

The panel deliberated for several hours before it convicted Keith Phoenix on the charge late last night; and attempted assault as a hate crime against Romel Sucuzhañay. The verdict comes nearly two months after a jury convicted Hakim Scott of manslaughter, but acquitted him of second degree murder as a hate crime.

Members of the Sucuzhañay family, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other elected officials and activists criticized Scott's acquittal on the hate crime charges, but they welcomed Phoenix’s conviction in statements they released after the jury announced its verdict.

“No verdict will ever bring peace to the family and friends of José Sucuzhañay,” said Quinn. “However, last night we received justice in the form of a guilty verdict of murder as a hate crime against Keith Phoenix.”

Ana María Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, agreed.

“Although nothing will ever restore the life of José Sucuzhañay, this verdict will bring some measure of peace and justice to the family and the community,” she said. “We must now continue to work together to eradicate violence from our streets, and to promote public policies that respect and honor the humanity of LGBT and immigrant communities.”

Prosecutors maintain Phoenix and Scott shouted anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs at Sucuzhañay as he and his brother walked home on Dec. 7, 2008, before they beat him to death on a Bushwick street corner. Scott faces up to 25 years in prison, and Phoenix could potentially spend the rest of his life behind bars.

"On Dec. 8, 2008, our city woke up to the sad news that anti-immigrant and homophobic hatred had taken another precious life away,” continued Archila. “The murder of José Sucuzhañay reminded us all that you do not have to be gay to be the victim of homophobia, and you do not have to be undocumented to be the victim of anti-immigrant violence.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pride 2010

Hundreds of thousands of people descended upon Manhattan for the annual Pride parade yesterday. And while I spent the majority of the afternoon at PrideFest on Hudson Street, I could not help but ponder a couple of observations of which I took note throughout the day.

Anchors on both Channel 7 and Channel 4 specifically mentioned Pride in their morning newscasts—one meteorologist even said thunderstorms would not spoil the festivities. Another observation of which I repeatedly took note was the number of young children with their parents who passed our booth along Hudson Street. And yet another fact I found particularly interesting was the number of Fire Islanders – including my columnist Bruce-Michael Gelbert and his partner Joe Saporito and Ron Martin, president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association—I saw throughout the day.

Pride is certainly a time to celebrate our collective strength and accomplishments. It also provides an opportunity to reflect upon those who have paved the way for us to publicly proclaim who we are, to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for simply being who they were and to demand accountability for those politicians and others who seek to block our collective progress towards full equality. Our community has certainly come a very long way since that sultry June night in 1969, but there remains much work to be done. And Pride provides the perfect reminder the fight is far from over.

Pride in Bushwick

While our community has come along way, full equality remains elusive.

LGBT Boricua Pride at PrideFest

A lovely British import at PrideFest

At PrideFest

A Fire Island Invasion preview on Hudson Street in the West Village

Pride on display at PrideFest on Hudson Street

Transgender Pride at PrideFest

Pier Dance from a Jane Street roof top.

Fireworks over the Hudson River from a Jane Street roof deck.

Fireworks over the Hudson River from a Jane Street roof deck.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Boy in Bushwick discusses gay rights, Obama on WNYC

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sucuzhañay hate crime retrial continues

This blog has certainly taken on a more Fire Island-centric feel in recent weeks, but it is important to point out the retrial of the second man prosecutors contend shouted anti-Latino and anti-gay slurs at Ecuadorian immigrant José Sucuzhañay before they beat him to death continues in a downtown Brooklyn courtroom.

Duncan Osborne reports on his blog Kuson Nelson testified he heard the driver of a red SUV yell anti-gay slurs at the victim and his brother Romel before he and another man attacked him.

“The driver in the front was talking to the two Hispanic males,” testified Nelson as he proceeded to describe to the jury what he said he heard. “Look at those two little faggot motherfuckers right there.”

Prosecutors contend Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix beat Sucuzhañay and to death on the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place on Dec. 7, 2008. A jury convicted Scott last month of manslaughter and attempted assault charges, but not as a hate crime. A separate panel could not reach a verdict in Phoenix’s trial.

The case is expected to go to the jury sometime next week.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fire Island 2010, part six

Written around 12:30 a.m. today on the front porch of the cottage after walking home from Cherry Grove on the beach.

It’s officially the summer equinox, and tonight’s brilliantly red sunset was certainly the perfect way to usher in the new season.

My eyes remain a bit blurry after the long walk home, but this past weekend certainly proved I actually do work (quite hard for anyone who dares to question this reality) out here. The highlights include delayed water taxis, Congressman Tim Bishop’s fundraiser in the Fire Island Pines, purchasing deeply discounted Armani jeans, a black belt and quasi-sheer white shirt at Shopping for Saturday at Whyte Hall, Miracle House’s annual fundraiser in the Pines, Penny Arcade’s thought- provoking performance in the Grove, an unexpected night in the House of Orange on Maryland Walk and a wonderful dinner at Top of the Bay.

Any Fire Islander will almost certainly lament about the sometimes troublesome water taxis, but the beach certainly continues to inspire those who choose to spend any amount of time—Logan Hardcore even provided me enough motivation to write the bulk of my Gulf Coast oil spill article during her pool show at the Ice Palace yesterday afternoon. Miracles can indeed come to pass on Fire Island!

Fire Island in the distance on Friday, June 18.

The view from the roof of a Fire Island Pines home on Saturday, June 19.

Gay Pride at Island Breeze in Cherry Grove.

Some of the offerings at the annual Drag Tag Sale at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove on Sunday, June 20.

A dying thunderstorm from the Ice Palace deck in Cherry Grove on Sunday, June 20.

Sole and crab at Top of the Bay in Cherry Grove on Sunday, June 20.

Sunset from Top of the Bay in Cherry Grove on Sunday, June 20.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New York City Council honors Jorge Steven López Mercado's family

I always get extremely anxious when I have to potentially interview someone in Spanish because it is not my first language, but the questions I wanted to ask Myriam Mercado and Jorge López almost instantly came to mind while I drank a coffee outside Hot and Crusty on 14th Street and First Avenue late Monday afternoon. As I wrote them into my notebook, however, I became increasingly sad. And after a few minutes, I could only glare out into the busy Manhattan intersection and allow this sadness to envelop me.

I could feel tears begin to well up in my eyes as I thought about the unimaginable pain the López family has had to endure since Juan José Martínez Matos brutally murdered Jorge Steven last November. How do you possibly prepare yourself to ask a mother to describe the moment she learned her son’s decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body had been found along the side of the road? Is it even possible?

In the end, the best thing a journalist can do is to provide a source (or sources) an opportunity to share their story. Myriam and Jorge continue to mourn their beloved Steven, but the dignified strength and resolve they showed at the City Council’s annual LGBT Pride celebration last night proved nothing short of inspirational to this reporter and others in the chamber. And their example will undoubtedly continue to prove love does conquer hate.

¡Viva Steven!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fire Island 2010, part five

Started to write at 1:52 p.m. while sitting by the pool at Hotel Ciel in the Fire Island Pines.

The New York Times article about sober share houses here on Fire Island – and in the Hamptons and Montauk – certainly provided some good fodder about for thought on the beach this weekend. Getting drunk and high are an essential part of the Fire Island experience for a significant minority of people who trek to the beach for the day, the weekend, the season or a lifetime. And several observations proved particularly noteworthy over the last two days.

- A drunk woman fell onto the floor at a Cherry Grove bar last night.
- Boisterous revelers who pack downtown Ocean Beach bars on almost any Saturday during the season were in moderate force last night.
- A handful of inebriated fools thought it was funny to yell “nice skirt” at me last night because I wore a full-length sarong.
- An out-of-control woman cussed at her presumptive boyfriend or partner on the Grove’s dock last night because he dared to tell her it was time for them to go back to Ocean Beach.

For the record, I had three Cuba libres (rum with diet coke) and a Fire Island beer over the course of several hours yesterday afternoon and evening. I was completely sober, however, by the time I finally went to bed in Ocean Beach around 2:30 a.m. Excessive drinking, drugging—and especially the antics often associated with it—are certainly not cute; or even particularly interesting to watch. It is indeed possible to enjoy the beach without falling on the floor at the bar, screaming in residential areas at 2 a.m., mocking people who walk by and/or cussing because someone dared to stand up to this behavior (And I am certainly not a holier-than-thou party pooper for anyone who doesn't know me personally.) Kudos to those on Fire Island who continue to prove one can enjoy the beach without excessive alcohol and drugs dictating their experience.

Approaching Ocean Beach on Saturday, June 12.

Guarding Maison 24 in the Fire Island Pines this afternoon.

Pool deck at Hotel Ciel in the Fire Island Pines this afternoon.

Looking towards the mainland from the roof of Hotel Ciel in the Fire Island Pines earlier this afternoon.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fire Island 2010, part four

Written somewhere between Babylon and Amityville earlier this morning on a Jamaica-bound train.

The weekend after Memorial Day is typically quiet on the beach, but there was enough to keep this reporter mildly titillated on Fire Island over the last couple of days. These included balmy weather, a continued positive energy in the Fire Island Pines and the one too many brownies, pieces of cake and cookies I ate at the Pines Animal Welfare Society's annual Cherry Grove benefit at the Ice Palace last night.

Here are three other quotes, toasts and observations of which I took note over the weekend.

1) Money can't buy you class. (A song lyric.)

2) Cheers to us and to those who want to be us. (A toast a woman made to her friends at a Grove bar last night.)

3) Jokes about barebacking are not cute; or even funny for that matter. (A piece of my mind.)

Ocean Beach wagon park.

On my way to Sailors' Haven on a water taxi on Saturday, June 5.

We all scream for ice cream in Sailors' Haven.

Watching a developing thunderstorm from the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove on Saturday, June 5.

The view as I finished my coffee while waiting for the Bay Shore-bound ferry on Sunday, June 6.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

RIP Rue McClanahan

One of my earliest childhood memories remains watching the "Golden Girls" with my grandmother on Saturday night in her Quincy, Mass., home. And news of Rue McClanahan's death earlier this morning here in New York immediately brought me back to those nights my beloved grandmother and I sat in her den and simply laughed at Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia's antics.

I have spent the better part of today reminiscing about McClanahan and the "Golden Girls" with friends on instant messenger and Facebook. I joked with a friend earlier this afternoon one of the best ways to pay homage to McClanahan would be to go out and mingle a la Blanche Devereaux. A far more simple (and less risque) tribute, however, seems in order.

Thank you for being a friend Rue...