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Incomplete Justice for Jose Sucuzhañay

In December of 2008, Jose Sucuzhañay was walking arm-in-arm with his brother Romel down a New York City street when the pair were attacks by a group of three men shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic epithets. The verdict in the trial of one of the attackers was handed down late today:

A man who smashed a beer bottle over the head of an Ecuadorean immigrant was convicted Thursday of manslaughter, but a jury decided he did not commit a hate crime.

This was one of the most heinous anti-gay and anti-Hispanic hate crimes in recent years. The attackers used glass beer bottles and a metal bat to attack the victims. Jose Sucuzhañay did not survive. His skull was cracked and he died a few days later in a hospital before his mother could get to New York from Ecuador to see him one last time. Hakim Scott was found guilty of manslaughter and attempted assault, but without the hate crime enhancement. He will likely receive 40 years in jail.

Here is the New York Times’ account of the incident at the time

The two brothers from Ecuador had attended a church party and had stopped at a bar afterward. They may have been a bit tipsy as they walked home in the dead of night, arm-in-arm, leaning close to each other, a common tableau of men in Latino cultures, but one easily misinterpreted by the biased mind.

Suddenly a car drew up. It was 3:30 a.m. Sunday, and the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a half-block from the brothers’ apartment, was nearly deserted – but not quite. Witnesses, the police said, heard some of what happened next.

Three men came out of the car shouting at the brothers, Jose and Romel Sucuzhanay – something ugly, anti-gay and anti-Latino. Vulgarisms against Hispanics and gay men were heard by witnesses, the police said. One man approached Jose Sucuzhanay, 31, the owner of a real estate agency who has been in New York a decade, and broke a beer bottle over the back of his head [The defendant in this case]. He went down hard.

Romel Sucuzhanay, 38, who is visiting from Ecuador on a two-month visa, bounded over a parked car and ran as the man with the broken bottle came at him. A distance away, he looked back and saw a second assailant beating his prone brother with an aluminum baseball bat, striking him repeatedly on the head and body. The man with the broken bottle turned back and joined the beating and kicking.

The attacks outrages New York City and prompted several vigils for Sucuzhañay before he succumbed to his injuries.

The attorney defending Scott claimed his motivation wasn’t hate bias because apparently no witness heard his client utter any of the epithets:

“This entire event occurred in the changing of a New York City traffic light,” he said. “This is as happenstance as human behavior becomes.”

Newman said Scott was upset because he was dragged along in the crime by Phoenix.

“This was two separate acts,” Newman said. “His act did not kill Jose Sucuzhanay.”

Newman said there were no witnesses saying his client ever said any kind of slur.

“Every single witness said that any racial slur anything against homosexuals, anything against any race, did not come from him, but came from the driver of the car,” said Newman, referring to Phoenix.

That’s a bullshit argument if you ask me since the reason the car stopped and the occupants got out and attacked Sucuzhañay and his brother was anti-gay and anti-Latino animus readily apparent from the statements made by the other two assailants. This amounts to nothing more than jury nullification…that is it OK to bash gays and Latinos in the eyes of the jury.

The reaction from New York is already coming in. NYC City Council Speaker (and out Lesbian) Christine Quinn released a statement saying in part

I am outraged by the dismissal of hate crime charges in one of the most heinous acts of hate our city has witnessed in recent memory. It is incomprehensible to me that such violent acts of hate could receive a verdict of not guilty. Hakim Scott viciously attacked Jose Sucuzhanay while calling him derogatory names and stood by and watched while his fellow attacker, Keith Phoenix, beat Jose with a baseball bat. Jose was attacked simply because of who he was and who these two criminals perceived him to be. His attack was motivated and fueled by pure hatred. I urge all New Yorkers to join me in condemning this verdict, as we did when we originally learned of this attack.

h/t to

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