It took them seven hours, but a Brooklyn jury finally got it right in the brutal death of José Sucuzhanay.
On Monday, the jurors convicted Keith Phoenix of murder as a hate crime in the December 2008 beating death of the 35-year-old Ecuadoran immigrant. Phoenix also was convicted of attempted assault as a hate crime in the attack on Romel Sucuzhanay, José’s brother.
Last May, another Brooklyn jury had decided that Hakim Scott, the other man accused of brutally killing Sucuzhanay, had not committed a hate crime.
"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 at the time Ana María Archila, co-executive director of the immigrants advocacy group Make the Road New York.
"I cannot understand how a person could kill another person and be laughing, enjoying it 20 minutes later," Diego Sucuzhanay, one of the victims’ brothers, told reporters after the second trial. "That kind of reaction can be seen only in a person that’s full of hate."
But this time justice was served, and the verdict brought some relief to the Sucuzhanay family and to New York Hispanics.
The hate crime verdict is even more important because it comes at a time in which brutal, unprovoked attacks against Latinos have multiplied in New York City. Staten Island in particular has become a dangerous place for Hispanics.
Last Thursday, Alejandro Galindo, a 52-year-old Mexican immigrant, was returning to his Staten Island home from work when three men, without provocation, punched him in the eye. He is in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Richmond University Medical Center with a fractured eye socket and brain trauma. Police classified that incident as a hate crime.
The day before, a Hispanic teenager had been savagely beaten and is in critical condition in Richmond University Medical Center – the same hospital where Galindo is receiving medical attention. It didn’t make any difference to the attackers that this time their victim was not an immigrant, but an 18-year-old Puerto Rican student just starting his summer vacation. Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth. Apparently, the fact that the young man – whose mother wanted his name withheld – was Hispanic triggered the assailants’ fury.
That was the fourth crime of its kind in Staten Island since April. As has been reported, on April 5, Rodolfo Olmedo, a 25-year-old Mexican baker, suffered a skull fracture in a savage beating outside his home; on April 17, a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant was beaten and left unconscious, and on April 25, another Mexican man was also severely beaten on Castleton Ave.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has spoken forcefully against such violence.
"I am outraged to learn that another anti-Latino hate crime has occurred in the city. We will not tolerate this kind of vicious hatred directed at any community, anywhere in our five boroughs," she said. "Those who perpetrated this crime must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Her words are encouraging, but actions speak louder than words. It is high time for the city to take whatever measures are necessary to stop the racists and their murderous violence in Staten Island and the whole city.
Even though the jury got it right this time on one of José Sucuzhanay’s killers, New Yorkers must look forward to a time when trials of this kind are no longer needed in our city.