Newark Shooting An Anti-Gay Hate Crime?

A triple shooting on August 5, 2007 may have been an anti-hate crime. For those of you not in the New York region, three Newark, NJ college students – Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower – were shot execution style. While police initially thought the killings, which left one survivor, Natasha Aeriel, were a simple robbery, gay activists – and the victims friends – suspect otherwise.

Gay activist James Credle released a statement reading:

Several young people, friends and classmates of [victims] Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightowner, and Natasha Aeriel have come forward. In their fear and grief, they are further driven to despair by the refusal of the city administration, the police, and the media to acknowledge the fact that some of the deceased were members and friends of their community.

They ask, ‘Why, when so much was said about the victims, about their promise, their accomplishments, the bright futures, was this important aspect of their lives, their very identities, suppressed?’

In an effort to steer the investigation in a queer direction, Credle and his allies have sent a letter to Newark mayor, Cory Booker.

Read said letter, after the jump.

Dear Mayor Booker:

After the alleged perpetrators took the lives of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, and robbed, abused and shot Natasha Aeriel, leaving her for dead early Sunday, August 5, 2007, one of the motives for this murder was speculated as gang or drug related. Although motive must be proven in our courts of law, the media and the numerous sound- bites about this matter have consistently emphasized the ‘execution style’ of the murders or ‘unfortunate situation’ of these promising young, college-bound people. Should the pursuit of true justice for Terrance, Dashon, Iofemi and Natasha exist in Newark, this pursuit would also include the possibility of whether the taking of their lives was driven by some type of bias or hate.

When the element of criminal offense committed against a person, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin, a bias or hate crime has been committed. Where there is a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person, a bias or hate crime exists. It has come to our attention that the attackers selected the victims because of a perceived bias against the race and sexual orientation of the victims. We are aware the victims were African American and at least one or more of the victims were gay. Therefore, this letter is an official document to inquire about the procedures to investigate the murders of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower and abuse of Natasha Aeriel as hate/bias crimes in the City of Newark. Furthermore, the US Attorney General for New Jersey, Chris Christie, is copied on this letter so that the Federal Government, which has authority to address a limited number of cases, may be made aware of the relationship between the murders and the Hate Crime Prevention Act.

To date, in public statements by you, Mayor Booker, Police Director Garry McCarthy, including all newspaper articles, radio and television reports and/or statements from the parents of the victims, there has been no mention of the sexual orientation of the victims or that there was the possibility of a bias/hate crime based on race and/or sexual orientation. Further, we want to know why, although the murders were committed more than a month ago, the fact of the sexual orientation of the youth has never been a part of the media or public discourse or media regarding the murders? This happened despite the fact several sources including friends, boyfriends/lovers of at least one of the victims and perhaps one of the parents knew that one or more of the murdered students were gay. At the same time, failure to fully expose and examine this issue will mean that the clarity that comes with the truth is clouded with distortion and rhetoric. We believe that if we keep silent, we will surely be an accessory to future tragedies like these in our community. Our silence would send the wrong message: “You can attack and even murder lgbtiq & two-spirited residents of Newark and you will not be prosecuted and convicted under hate/bias crime laws.”

A formal letter will be sent to the parents/guardians of the murdered youth informing them of this letter and our request that the City of Newark and the Federal Government review these murders as hate/bias crimes. We do not wish to add to the pain and suffering of the parents or loved ones of the youth and we empathize with what they have already undergone and will continue to experience as this matter is adjudicated and beyond. However, we believe in full disclosure so that the truth may prevail.

We look forward to meeting with representatives of your administration including Councilman Rice, Councilwoman Rone, LGBTIQ&Two-Spirited Liaison Mattes, a representative from the Police Department and any other key personnel they desire to discuss this and relate issues/concerns facing the lgbtiq&two- spirited community in Newark. Your cooperation and assistance is anticipated and would be greatly appreciated.

In Peace,

James Credle in behalf of Representatives of the LGBTIQ & Two-Spirited Concerns Group