Three days after a gay man was shot to death in an apparent hate crime in Greenwich Village, gay and straight mourners at a makeshift memorial for Mark Carson reacted to the news—albeit in slightly different ways.
“I’m shocked, I’m completely speechless,” said a Bayonne, New Jersey, resident who gave her name as Blake and works in the Village. She held back tears as she read notes left for Carson on the corner where he was killed on Friday night.
In contrast, Harlem resident James Holmes, who was just leaving a class at the LGBT Community Center, said, “This sort of stuff happens all the time. It just doesn’t get written about that often.”
Such responses were echoed by neighborhood residents and tourists alike on Monday afternoon, where a small crowd had gathered to leave notes and flowers. A larger rally with local politicians was planned for later in the evening. Many straight Village residents said they were shocked that such a violent hate crime could still happen in 2013, even after marriage equality passed in New York State last year and with Christine Quinn, a lesbian, as the frontrunner to become the city’s next mayor.
But some gay men and women weren’t shocked at all, remarking that gay bashing was, sadly, nothing new—and hate crimes were on the rise again.
“Things are getting very, very nasty around here,” said Paul LaPlant, a longtime Village resident who was wearing an LGBT rainbow cap.
LaPlant was just down the street when Carson was killed. He said he heard a pop and saw a man on the sidewalk, but didn’t think he was dead.
“I should have known better,” LaPlant said, “I’m only surprised that it went that far. I think there’s a backlash against all the progress we’ve made. You can only go so far at one time without paying for it.”
Hate crimes against LGBT New Yorkers have been on the rise for the last three years, despite national decreases in anti-LGBT violence, according to data collected by the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
In 2011, the last year for which data is available, reports of hate violence against LGBT and HIV-affected New Yorkers rose 13 percent.
This was the first homicide in the NYPD’s West Village precinct this year, but there were 57 assaults recorded from January through today.
Friday’s homicide was the fifth antigay hate crime in New York in less than a month, says Sharon Staple, the executive director of the Anti-Violence Project.
“This is an issue that exists throughout the year for LGBT people in New York,” Staple said, “New Yorkers are starting to recognize that this is a real and present problem.” The Anti-Violence Project is now organizing community safety night on Fridays, where volunteers will pass out information on safety and resources for the LGBT community around New York City.
According to police, Carson was walking with a friend when he was approached by Elliot Morales, who threatened a local bartender with a gun and shouted antigay slurs at him just moments before he encountered Carson.
Morales, who was accompanied by two friends, allegedly approached Carson and his friend and asked, “What are you? Gay wrestlers? You want to die tonight?”
Morales then asked Carson if he and his friend were an item. When Carson replied yes, Morales allegedly shot him in the head with a revolver.
“It is clear that the victim here was killed only because and just because he was thought to be gay,” Ray Kelly, the NYPD commissioner, told The New York Times on Sunday.
Leaders of gay-advocacy groups say the hate crime is an extreme example of the discrimination that persists, despite progress in recent years.
“Just because we have marriage equality or a president who is supportive doesn’t mean that regular folks on the street have stopped facing discrimination,” says Glennda Testone, executive director of the LGBT Community Center. “This is a reminder that we are not immune just because we live on a particular street.”
Testone says straight allies in the neighborhood have been stopping by the center in recent days to express their condolences and ask what they can do to help.
“We can’t take our progress for granted,” she says, “we still need to be visible and strong.”
Back on the corner where Carson was shot, some passersby heard about Carson’s death for the first time as they saw a sign in the middle of the memorial reading, “A gay man was murdered here in a bias attack. Stop the hate.”
Others tucked roses into the door of a shuttered bookstore, wept, and dropped to their knees on the sidewalk to pray.
Jerome Wagens, who had been a close friend of Carson’s for two years, broke down in tears when he reached the memorial on the corner of West 8th Street and Sixth Avenue.
“This is where we hang out,” Wagens said. “This is our pizza spot. We go to the bars on this block. We clicked instantly as friends—we loved listening to the same music and hanging out.”
“He was just a really happy person. He spoke his mind and didn’t suppress who he was,” Wagens said. “He was happy being who he was.”