Who Owns the Streets? Hate Crime and Lived Experience in NYC

Early Sunday morning, two women were leaving One Last Shag, a gay bar on Franklin Avenue in Bed-Stuy, when a man shouted “derogatory comments about their sexual orientation” and punched both of them. This is only the latest in a recent series of antigay violence in the borough, including the assault of a gay man in the hallway of his apartment building, the verbal harassment and shooting of what appeared to be a man in a dress, and the vicious beating of a transwoman in Bushwick. Even as victories for LGBTQ rights are being won in courtrooms across the country, hate crime remains a constant danger.

It’s not clear yet whether this weekend’s incident in Bed-Stuy will be treated as a hate crime, DNA Info reports, though even in the few available details, the attacker’s motivation seems evident. Yesterday, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that Matthew Smith, the shooter in the aforementioned dress incident, who yelled “y’all f***ots, trannies” at his victim, will be charged with attempted murder as a hate crime.

The enormous differences in the way men and women experience New York City were highlighted yesterday in a video posted by an actress named Soshana Roberts, who walked around the city for 10 hours one day behind her boyfriend, who walked ahead of her wearing a hidden camera. She was catcalled more than 100 times, not including “winks, whistles, etc.” This is harrassment in broad day light—not violent necessarily, but unwanted, inappropriate, and menacing all the same. Privilege is not feeling menaced where others do.

Similar differences exist on every sidewalk in the city between gay and straight people, as well as gender-nonconforming and gender-conforming cis people, particularly out of view of other people. New York City is a city that welcomes all people from all places, and yet we only need to think of Mark Carson, a gay man who was fatally shot in a hate crime in the West Village last summer, to be reminded that hate still exists even in the most loving of places.

Last Summer, the Anti-Violence Project reported an increase in hate crimes in New York City even as national rates dropped, a trend at least minorly attributable to an increase in reporting of incidents. The rise prompted at least a brief superhero-themed revamp of the Guardian Angels, and just as in the organization’s early days, it is as heartening that such a community effort would be created as it is disheartening that it needs to be created in the first place. The rash of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes across Brooklyn is very scary, and increasingly difficult to see as an anomaly. Be careful, everyone.

Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.

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