Pam Spaulding

Is the Newark triple murder an anti-gay hate crime?

Filed By Pam Spaulding | September 24, 2007 10:25 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: hate crimes against LGBT people, homophobic behavior, LGBT youth, New Jersey, Newark, racism, sexual assault

When three black students who were to attend Delaware State University were murdered execution-style in a schoolyard back in August, it made national news. Terrance Aeriel, 18, Dashon Harvey, 20, and Iofemi Hightower, 20, were forced to kneel against a wall and were shot at close range. The brutal attack left a fourth student, Natasha Aeriel, Terrance Aeriel's sister, with a gunshot wound to the head. A summary of the facts surrounding the case with sources is here.

The aspect of this case that garnered the most attention in the mainstream media was the fact that the those charged with the crime were undocumented immigrants.

Less reporting, however, focused on the news that two of the victims were sexually assaulted before being shot to death.

On Friday, FOX 5 New York reported that two of the victims may have been sexually assaulted before they were killed by an illegal immigrant with a violent criminal history.

According to FOX 5 New York, a sexual attack may have occurred before Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey were shot to death, and a fourth victim, 19-year old Natasha Aerial, was critically wounded.

The suspect in the sexual assault, Peruvian national Jose Carranza, is an illegal immigrant previously charged with raping a 5-year-old. Carranza surrendered to Newark Mayor Cory Booker on Thursday and plead not guilty to to three counts of murder and one charge each of attempted murder and robbery in Essex County Superior Court on Friday.

According to Blue Jersey and reporting in the Washington Blade, some leaders in the LGBT community are starting to ask questions about whether some of the youths might have been gay or perceived to be gay and whether this it should be investigated as a hate crime.

The Blade has been investigating the hate crime angle for two weeks. A spokesperson for the mayor told the Blade last week the incident "was not a hate crime."

More below the fold.

From Blue Jersey's Juan Melli:

We are told that friends of the victims have come forward to ask why the identities of the murdered teenagers, and the lone survivor, have been suppressed, claiming that "at least one or more of the victims were gay". Media reports indicate that two of the victims were sexually molested before being killed. Though authorities suggest robbery was the motive, some in the community say they were targeted because they were gay.

A letter to Booker (below the fold), signed James Credle on behalf of LGBTIQ & Two-Spirited Concerns Group, asks why none of the public statements made by the mayor or police director mention the sexual orientation of the victims "despite the fact several sources including friends, boyfriends/lovers of at least one of the victims and perhaps one of the parents knew that one or more of the murdered students were gay." Copies of the letter were also sent to U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.

Newark's politicians and police already know that this is a possibility and of course they're privately looking into whether this was in fact a hate crime. But the issue is much larger than these four students and requires a more thorough response. We've moved beyond keeping this quiet.

The implication here -- and without any on-the-record statements by anyone directly involved with the families or officials on this case we cannot know --  is that the silence on this matter is due to homophobia and sensitivities within the black community. If so, it would not be surprising for that it is playing a role in the reticence to publicly discuss the orientation of the victims (or even perceived orientations) as a motive in this crime.

As Juan points out, it would be tragic if the leaders in minority-majority populated Newark are unable to discuss these issues, particularly for black LGBT youth, who desperately need advocacy and affirmation from within their community that they 1) exist and 2) feel able to live openly in a safe environment. It's clear that the city has not dealt with this issue well in the past.

Garden State Equality responded to the possibility that these heinous murders may have been hate crimes, noting the city's past struggles with the issue: "If that turns out to be the case, then shame on authories that did not do more to prevent hate-crime violence after the murders of Sakia Gunn and Shani Baraka in Newark in 2003." At the time, almost no news reports mentioned Shani Baraka's sexual orientation or that of the other victim, her lover, until a New York Blade story. This needs to be prevented from happening again, which is why we can't bury our heads in the sand.

...The homophobia in parts of the black community makes this a politically unpopular issue for leaders to address. But it's a real problem and pretending it's not there only perpetuates the cycle of hate.

Alexander Robinson of the National Black Justice Coalition (and a Bilerico contributor) had this to say about the politics of discussing this case as a possible hate crime:

Sources say that the Newark mayor and other prominent black leaders in Newark may have known that some of the victims in this case were gay but withheld that information because, among other things, they felt it would be hurtful to the surviving families if word got out that their fallen relatives were gay. Other sources think the mayor, who was elected as a reform candidate pledging to clean up Newark's image as a crime-ridden city, felt uncomfortable delving into the sexual orientation of the victims because at least some in the black community view homosexuality as a negative characteristic.

The leaders need to think carefully about what their handling of cases like this says to black LGBT citizens of the Garden State as well. The community needs to know the facts of this case -- and that officials are not afraid to enforce the law when a hate crime occurs in the future --  regardless of the color and orientation. Political squeamishness about the matter is not leadership. We will never get past this issue without placing others at risk.


Here is the letter to Newark's mayor, Cory Booker:

The Honorable Cory Booker, Mayor
City of Newark
City Hall
Newark, New Jersey 07102

September 17, 2007

Dear Mayor Booker:

After the alleged perpetrators took the lives of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, and robbed, abused and shot Natasha Aeriel, leaving her for dead early Sunday, August 5, 2007, one of the motives for this murder was speculated as gang or drug related. Although motive must be proven in our courts of law, the media and the numerous sound- bites about this matter have consistently emphasized the 'execution style' of the murders or 'unfortunate situation' of these promising young, college-bound people. Should the pursuit of true justice for Terrance, Dashon, Iofemi and Natasha exist in Newark, this pursuit would also include the possibility of whether the taking of their lives was driven by some type of bias or hate.

When the element of criminal offense committed against a person, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin, a bias or hate crime has been committed. Where there is a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person, a bias or hate crime exists. It has come to our attention that the attackers selected the victims because of a perceived bias against the race and sexual orientation of the victims. We are aware the victims were African American and at least one or more of the victims were gay. Therefore, this letter is an official document to inquire about the procedures to investigate the murders of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower and abuse of Natasha Aeriel as hate/bias crimes in the City of Newark. Furthermore, the US Attorney General for New Jersey, Chris Christie, is copied on this letter so that the Federal Government, which has authority to address a limited number of cases, may be made aware of the relationship between the murders and the Hate Crime Prevention Act.

To date, in public statements by you, Mayor Booker, Police Director Garry McCarthy, including all newspaper articles, radio and television reports and/or statements from the parents of the victims, there has been no mention of the sexual orientation of the victims or that there was the possibility of a bias/hate crime based on race and/or sexual orientation. Further, we want to know why, although the murders were committed more than a month ago, the fact of the sexual orientation of the youth has never been a part of the media or public discourse or media regarding the murders? This happened despite the fact several sources including friends, boyfriends/lovers of at least one of the victims and perhaps one of the parents knew that one or more of the murdered students were gay. At the same time, failure to fully expose and examine this issue will mean that the clarity that comes with the truth is clouded with distortion and rhetoric. We believe that if we keep silent, we will surely be an accessory to future tragedies like these in our community. Our silence would send the wrong message: "You can attack and even murder lgbtiq&two-spirited residents of Newark and you will not be prosecuted and convicted under hate/bias crime laws."

A formal letter will be sent to the parents/guardians of the murdered youth informing them of this letter and our request that the City of Newark and the Federal Government review these murders as hate/bias crimes. We do not wish to add to the pain and suffering of the parents or loved ones of the youth and we empathize with what they have already undergone and will continue to experience as this matter is adjudicated and beyond. However, we believe in full disclosure so that the truth may prevail.

We look forward to meeting with representatives of your administration including Councilman Rice, Councilwoman Rone, LGBTIQ&Two-Spirited Liaison Mattes, a representative from the Police Department and any other key personnel they desire to discuss this and relate issues/concerns facing the lgbtiq&two- spirited community in Newark. Your cooperation and assistance is anticipated and would be greatly appreciated.

In Peace,

James Credle in behalf of Representatives of the LGBTIQ&Two-Spirited Concerns Group

Cc: Chris Christopher, US Attorney General for New Jersey, LGBTIQ&Two-Spirited Concerns Group Interested Others

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Thanks for covering this, Pam. It hadn't made it onto the blog yet, and this is another case that needs close scrutiny.