It is almost incomprehensible, but last Thursday a Brooklyn jury decided that the 2008 murder of José Sucuzhanay was not a hate crime. They seem to be the only ones who think that way.
"Beating a man to death with a baseball bat and a broken bottle while screaming anti-immigrant and homophobic epithets is clearly a hate crime," said Ana María Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York.
Yes it is, any reasonable person would agree.
And yet, Hakim Scott, one of Sucuzhanay’s killers, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, but acquitted of a crime motivated by blind intolerance. Scott faces up to 40 years when he is sentenced on June 9. He escaped life in jail on the hate-crime charge.
"Latino communities throughout the city are saddened by the verdict, which failed to characterize the vile murder of Jose Sucuzhanay as a hate crime," Archila said.
On Dec. 7, 2008, Sucuzhanay, 31, and his brother, Romel, 36, who was visiting from Ecuador, had been drinking at a church party and later at Mexican restaurant. The two were holding on to each other as they walked home along Bushwick Ave. at 3:30 on that fateful Sunday morning.
Suddenly, they were brutally attacked by Scott, 26, and his co-defendant Keith Phoenix, 30. Another jury is still deliberating the fate of Phoenix.
According to witnesses at the scene, after yelling, "Check out those f—-ts over there," the defendants pulled up in an SUV at a stoplight and jumped out, the vicious assault began.
While Romel Sucuzhanay was able to escape the attack with minor injuries, José Sucuzhanay suffered a beating on the head with an aluminum bat and a glass bottle.
The attackers, witnesses said, left him for dead on a Bushwick sidewalk. "F—ing Spanish!" they yelled to the fresh-faced Ecuadoran as he lay bleeding on a Brooklyn street.
He lingered for five days at Elmhurst Hospital and died the day before his grieving mother arrived from Ecuador. He leaves behind two young daughters.
By all accounts, José Sucuzhanay was a good man. But the thugs who savagely beat him did not care. They did not know him – they only knew they hated José Sucuzhanay because he was Latino and they thought he was gay.
José Sucuzhanay had come to New York nine years before in pursuit of the quintessential immigrant dream. A success story, José Sucuzhanay had recently opened his own real estate business not far from where he was assaulted.
The verdict comes one month after a 19-year old Long Island man was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime in the stabbing death of another Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero.
These attacks are tragic proof that for an alarming number of people, it is open season on Hispanics.
Last Friday, members of Sucuzhanay’s family joined Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Make the Road New York to condemn the verdict. They called for improved public policy to prevent future hate crimes.
Public policies that vilify and criminalize immigrants like Arizona’s SB1070, or that approve of unequal treatment of gay people like the state Senate’s recent decision to deny New Yorkers marriage equality, Archila said, create an environment of tacit support for discrimination and hatred.
"As a city," Archila said, "we must turn our attention to proactively preventing hate crimes and the xenophobia, homophobia and ignorance that motivate them."