In a protest that drew leading city elected officials, hundreds decried the fatal assault on Jose O. Sucuzhanay, an attack being characterized as a hate crime because the assailants used anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs as they beat the 31-year-old Ecuadorean with a bat and beer bottle.
"To the four murderous thugs who are in hiding right now… the message is very clear," Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, told the crowd that pressed into a small park at Myrtle Avenue and Grove Street on December 14. "You’re going to be caught, you’re going to be convicted, you’re going to prison for the rest of your lives."
Sucuzhanay was walking with his brother, Romel, early in the morning on December 7 when the two were assaulted by four men who exited a red or maroon sport utility vehicle. The brothers were coming from a party and, apparently, were huddled close to stay warm. That may have led the attackers to conclude that the two were gay.
While Romel escaped, Jose suffered severe head injuries and lingered on life support in a Brooklyn hospital until his death on December 12.
Born in Ecuador, Sucuzhanay looked like the classic American story of the successful immigrant in New York. With a man named Luis Naranjo, he owned 21 Kossuth Place in Bushwick, just yards from where he was attacked, and three properties in Queens, two with Naranjo. Collectively, the value of those real estate holdings, at least on paper, approaches $1 million.
The lethal attack, the second this year in the New York City area on an Ecuadorean, angered elected officials as well as gay and Latino groups.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn held a December 8 press conference denouncing the crime and has continued to press the case.
"They wanted us to respond to their hatred by being afraid, for us to go away, to stay in our homes, to go back in the closet," Quinn said at Sunday’s protest. "This is our neighborhood, this is our borough, this is our city, this is our country… We are not going to live in fear."
Police and the district attorney’s office have declined to discuss the status of the investigation. Initially, it appeared police had a license plate number from the vehicle, but they later released a sketch of one assailant, which suggests they do not know who the attackers are.
Quinn was joined at the protest by other City Council members. Also speaking were Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, who represents parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, openly gay state Senator Thomas Duane, who represents Chelsea, and Assemblyman Jose Rivera from the Bronx.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg opted to attend a December 14 luncheon honoring Vito Fossella, the Staten Island congressman who gave up his seat after his drunken driving arrest in Virginia led to revelations that he had fathered a child out of wedlock with a woman in that state. Fossella has a wife and three children in New York. The mayor discussed the Sucuzhanay case at an appearance at a Staten Island church the same day.
Velázquez tied the attack to the anti-immigrant sentiment that regularly rears its head in America. Citing the "paramilitary raids that dehumanize immigrants, particularly Latinos," Velázquez said the federal government’s failure to implement immigration reform led to such violence.
"It is this broken system that leads others to blame immigrants for our own inaction," she said. "This type of crime cannot be tolerated, not against immigrants and not against lesbians and gays."
The protest, which was organized by Make the Road New York, a Bushwick-based social action center that includes among its member groups Gay and Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered, or GLOBE. After the rally, several hundred marched roughly a half mile to the site of the attack, where participants held a brief vigil.