By Alissa Fleck
In the morning hours of May 18, 32-year-old Mark Carson was gunned down outside a Greenwich Village pizzeria after being trailed and threatened with anti-gay slurs. Before opening fire early Saturday, the gunman confronted the victim and his companion on the street and asked if they “want to die here,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The tragedy, deemed a hate crime by the NYPD, follows a string of similar incidents throughout the city over the past two weeks.
While the perpetrator, later identified as 33-year-old Elliot Morales, was arrested following the most recent attack, State Senator Brad Hoylman, in whose district the murder occurred, says the city’s work does not stop at an arrest for one act.
“This recent rash of hate violence is a reminder that there’s still a lot to be done,” said the Senator. “It’s my hope that the LGBT community will not become complacent by our recent successes, such as marriage, and other advances in the struggle for equal rights.”
According to Hoylman, tragic acts such as those which occurred over the past few weeks reflect a society which fails to be entirely LGBT-friendly and has a long way to come.
“To take a couple of examples,” he explained, “we still don’t have state law protecting the rights of transgender people, homelessness among LGBT people is a growing problem and our social services safety net has been cut dramatically by state and local government.”
Sharon Stapel, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told the New York Times that anti-gay violence actually seems to be escalating in the area where the attack on Carson occurred.
“The Village has always been a place where LGBT people have felt accepted and respected,” she said. “But the Village is not immune from this vitriolic anti-LGBT violence.”
While the area is home to numerous LGBT-friendly and owned establishments, and Carson reportedly loved frequenting the region, Stapel added the community is not as homogeneous as it may sometimes appear. Streets seen as tolerant of LGBT populations may border less friendly ones.
Still, there is a lot which can be done by community members to protect each other.
“Awareness is a key component,” said Hoylman. “Victims who have been targeted need to come forward even though it’s sometimes difficult, embarrassing or frankly inconvenient to report a crime.”
“Neighbors need to look out for each other and the community needs to continue to be vigilant,” he added.
Hoylman noted that various LGBT and anti-violence groups throughout the city, such as the Anti-Violence Project, the LGBT Center and GLAAD, are doing a good job in raising awareness, including organizing a march following the murder, but that still more is needed.
“We need more support from the community, whether financial or whatever, people need to get engaged,” said Hoylman. “Clearly we have more work to be done.”
On the night Carson was murdered, about 15 minutes before the bloodshed, Kelly said the gunman was seen urinating outside an upscale restaurant a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn, the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the modern gay-rights movement when patrons at a gay bar reacted to police harassment.
The gunman went inside the restaurant and asked if someone was going to call the police about him. Police said the gunman, identified later as Morales, told both the bartender and the manager, “if you do call the police, I’ll shoot you” and opened his sweatshirt to reveal a shoulder holster with a revolver and made anti-gay remarks, Kelly said.
Morales has a previous arrest for attempted murder in 1998, police said. Details of that arrest weren’t immediately clear.
Out on the street minutes later, the gunman and two others approached the 32-year-old victim, identified by police as Harlem resident Marc Carson, and a companion. One of the three men yelled out, “What are you, gay wrestlers?” according to Kelly.
The two men stopped, turned and, according to Kelly, said to the group taunting them, “What did you say?” – then kept walking.
“There were no words that would aggravate the situation spoken by the victims here,” the commissioner said. “This fully looks to be a hate crime, a bias crime.”
Two of the men kept following the victim and his companion, Kelly said, adding that witnesses saw the pair approach from behind while repeating anti-gay slurs.
The gunman asked the men if they were together and when he got an affirmative answer, Kelly said, “we believe that the perpetrator says to the victim, “Do you want to die here?’”
That’s when suspect produced the revolver and fired one shot into Carson’s cheek, Kelly said.
The gunman fled but was caught a few streets down by an officer who had heard a description on his radio spotted him and ordered him to stop, Kelly said. The suspected gunman threw his revolver to the ground and was arrested on the edge of the New York University campus.
Police found the mortally wounded victim on the pavement. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Authorities said they could not immediately identify Morales because he was carrying forged identification. But investigators learned his name after the forged ID was submitted to the department’s Facial Recognition Unit.
Of the other recent New York bias attacks on gay men, one was reported last week in the same neighborhood, where a 35-year-old man told police he was beaten up and heard anti-gay words after leaving a bar.
On May 10, two men trying to enter a billiards hall in midtown Manhattan were approached and beaten by a group shouting homophobic slurs, police said.
And on May 5, a man and his partner were beaten near the Madison Square Garden arena after a group of men hurled anti-gay slurs at them.
Multiple lawmakers have condemned the violence.
State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick declared that “New York is not open for bigotry.”
The New York City Anti-Violence Project plans to gather on Friday night, May 24, for what it calls a “Community Safety Night” .
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the Village in her home district and is running to be the city’s first openly gay mayor, also spoke out against the violence witnessed by the city in the past few weeks.
“There was a time in New York City when hate crimes were a common occurrence,” said Quinn in a statement. “There was a time in New York City when two people of the same gender could not walk down the street arm-in-arm without fear of violence and harassment.”
“We refuse to go back to that time,” she added. “This kind of shocking and senseless violence, so deeply rooted in hate, has no place in a city whose greatest strength will always be its diversity.’’
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