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Hate, race and class in a deep Blue city – NY

365gay.com reports that The Big Apple is seeing a rise in attacks against gays and lesbians, with the latest occurring over the weekend. You don’t have to be gay and in a Red enclave to be the victim of hotheaded homophobes out to prove a point.

Two gay men walking through Chelsea on their way to the Roxy – a popular gay club – were beaten early Sunday morning. One of the victims, a 33-year old, sustained a a separated shoulder and cuts to his face. He was treated and released from the hospital. Police, who declined to identify the victims, said the men were set upon by two men who spewed homophobic slurs as they beat the pair.

The attackers fled the scene but police say they have good descriptions. So far, though, no arrests have been made.

Most of the attacks, in various parts of the city, resulted in minor injuries, but, in June a 32 year old gay Brooklyn man was attacked by three men who beat, kicked and stomped on him while yelling homophobic epithets. Dwan Prince was in a coma for weeks following the attack.

In June and July alone there were 85 violent hate crimes against NYC gays and the number has been rising almost daily in August. It is part of a disturbing trend, Clarence Price of the Anti-Violence Project told 365Gay.com.

“Hate crimes against gays jumped in the second half of 2003 and have remained high,” Patton said. “So far this summer they are about six percent above average.” There also have a series of racial and anti-Semitic attacks this summer but ” violence against the LGBT community tends to be more severe,” Patton said.

He said there appears to be a “hunting dynamic” common to most of the attacks where roving gangs “go looking for gays”.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, it’s another case of being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time for a black man.

A black Brooklyn man was beaten by a gang of white men with pipes and baseball bats as they reportedly shouted racial epithets early yesterday morning, police said.

The attack came shortly after a man in Manhattan was beaten by two men who thought he was gay, adding to a list of violent bias crimes this summer. The attack in the Mill Basin section ended when a car stopped at the scene and two passengers tried to assist the victim, Alex Moore, 29. They called 911 and approached the crowd of men surrounding Moore, but before they could engage them, the gang dispersed.

Before scattering into the night, the attackers snatched $50 from Moore’s pocket, police said…According to statements Moore made to police, the gang set upon him without provocation shouting slurs and, “I’m going to get you!”

…”I know that Mr. Moore said very clearly that as he was being beaten, he was called the n-word,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said. “It’s good enough for me and the Police Department that that activates the bias crime.”

When I was living in NYC, there were certain places that you knew you were not safe after dark as a black person — Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Howard Beach — sadly, these are places where you could end up dead for simply “walking while black.” [Infamous cases that occurred while I was living there: Willie Turks (1982), Michael Griffith (1987) and Yusuf Hawkins (1989).]

NYC, despite all that makes it a wonderful place, is definitely the most self-segregated place I’ve ever lived, and I’m typing this from the Red Tar Heel State.

***

This weekend, Kate and I watched Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) on DVD. That was filmed on location a few blocks from where I lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant (my block was actually in the historic district of Stuyvesant Heights). It is my favorite Spike Lee film, because he really captures the flavor of the characters in the neighborhood, for good and ill, and evoked lots of memories for me. The old men sitting out on the street, talking sh*t and commenting on folks walking by. Kids playing in the street, turning on the fire hydrant to stay cool. Tensions because of the white folks moving in and buying up the brownstones, the Korean grocers, etc. All of that was realized, and not with much exaggeration.


Spike (r) and the late, great Ossie Davis.

I remember the reviews of the film at the time full of excitable comments about Spike Lee fomenting violence in an already racially tense city. Riots were sure to occur, they said. They didn’t, of course, but it was amusing to see the written white fear over this film; the reviews seemed to only see the irrational black bigotry and gloss over the irrational white bigotry in the film — Lee clearly shows both sides, but leaves enough ambiguity to allow the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own biases. It’s what makes it a great film.

Kate found herself noting how this film could be perceived in a radically different way from someone not tied to urban (not necessarily black) culture. As an Alabamian, she has no frame of reference to the culture of sitting out on the stoop, the Mr. Softee truck or the summer hydrant spray. The myriad ethnic/racial tensions portrayed in the film are quite different from the straightforward black/white dynamic in the South. It was interesting to hear her perceptions of the film, especially since it is, now, a snapshot in time.

A good companion film to see with Do The Right Thing is Boyz in the Hood, released only two years later, and a tour-de-force directorial debut by John Singleton (who was nominated for an Oscar). These two films have Very different perspectives on the urban experience. The latter has a sense of the insane, sad black-on-black violence of “gangsta” culture that the former doesn’t have, but both films capture the complete distrust of law enforcement in the urban minority communities at the time.

On the upside, Boyz is a window on black West Coast culture and life that is completely foreign to me in comparison to the East Coast culture. Not to say one is any better than the other, but like any other community, the black community is extremely diverse; it’s laughable that politicians often treat the population as a monolith. Regional culture and class never seem to be addressed, but they are significant if you want to communicate a message effectively.

Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” was the political rap of Do The Right Thing, N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” was the theme of Boyz in the Hood. Again, completely different approaches to life in the urban environment — a big culture gulf there, no matter what color you are.

Not having lived in the world of Boyz, the picture Singleton paints is quite depressing — the protagonist (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) has to save himself from the violence, drugs and despair by leaving the neighborhood. I cannot relate to that world’s level of violence and self-destruction. I’d like to know what about South
Central has changed in subsequent years, if at all. Do The Right Thing, on the other hand, leaves one feeling disturbed by the incidents that occur, but not in despair over the neighborhood (or its residents).


Two of my uncles own and live in this house in Stuyvesant Heights, one of the few non-brownstone buildings in the historic district. They are real estate agents, and everything sells or rents in a flash.

My old neighborhood has not changed a great deal. Since 1989 the crime rate has dropped in the formerly sketchy surrounding areas; you see many more white people living there. Manhattan and most areas just across the East River in Brooklyn and Queens are now too pricey for a working stiff, so folks of all colors are moving a bit further into the interior of the boroughs (Bed-Stuy is about a 15 minute subway ride from Manhattan) in order to get more space for the money.

Many black residents own their brownstones and protect them from being snatched up by speculators, who ring doorbells regularly asking people to name their price. Hell, I couldn’t afford to buy a house there now. My cousin that just visited the other day said her small brownstone could easily go for $400K — as is.

New York City is just a complicated beast.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding