In Anti-Gay Killing, Jewish Lessons and a Family’s Denial

The early-morning Saturday murder of Mark Carson in Greenwich Village by alleged suspect Elliot Morales has shocked and appalled New Yorkers, over a thousand of whom marched through the neighborhood on Monday speaking out against hate and violence.

Coverage in the ethnic and community press includes a story in El Diario-La Prensa by Gloria Medina, translated below, who interviewed members of Morales’ family. They can relate to the loss of a loved one to violence, but don’t believe the suspect was motivated by hatred of gays.  The Jewish Daily Forward has two pieces about the shooting from the perspective of Jewish voices, a community well-versed with being on the receiving end of hate crimes.

Not a Hate Crime, says Family, and Asks for Forgiveness

The family members of the suspect accused of killing a man presumably because he was gay, asked for forgiveness for the pain he has caused but denied it was a hate crime.

Edith Gutiérrez stands by her brother, not believing it was a hate crime, based on personal experiences. (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

“We’re in shock, we really don’t know what happened. We don’t know what was going through his mind,” said Edith Gutiérrez, the older sister of Elliot Morales, who was charged with killing Mark Carson, 32, on Saturday, May 18, in Manhattan’s West Village.

“We ask the family for forgiveness and we send them our condolences,” said Gutiérrez, 43. “I know how it feels to be a mother who lost her son. They murdered my son,” she added, weeping.

Gutiérrez lost her son, Christopher Gutiérrez, 20, in September 2009. Following an argument, Sir’mone McCaulla stabbed him multiple times in the chest on the steps of Manhattan’s main post office [James A. Farley Post Office]. McCaulla, a 20-year-old war veteran, committed suicide a few days after the crime.

Morales, 33, is facing various charges: second degree murder as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon, and menacing. Morales could receive a life sentence if found guilty.

Morales, who is a union member, had recently been released from prison in Watertown, N.Y., where he served a 10-year-sentence for first-degree robbery.

“If my brother did what they say he did, he has to pay for the consequences. What I’m sure of is that it wasn’t a hate crime,” said Gutiérrez, who said she is bisexual and lived with a woman for five years. “My brother got along very well with my partner. There are also some lesbians in my family.”

According to Gutiérrez, people say things they don’t mean when they’re in the middle of a fight.

“Everyone does it…I’m going to stand by my brother and defend him…we only ask for a fair trial,” she added.

Francis Rivera, Morales’ nephew, said it was “difficult to be on the other side of the story,” referring to his brother Christopher’s death. “We ask Carson’s family members for forgiveness. We feel their sorrow and their pain.”

Rivera, 25, confirmed that he had spoken with Morales and said Morales told him he didn’t remember anything that happened.

“He supposedly said he had taken Molly, a pill that’s stronger than ecstasy since it’s more pure,” Rivera said in front of the building where Morales’ mother lives. “Morales said he doesn’t remember what happened.”

According to Rivera, Morales is single with no children and was working in Pennsylvania. He was trying to “get his life together.”

Neither the police department nor the Manhattan District Attorney’s office confirmed the story that Morales had been under the influence of controlled substances.

Regarding the other two individuals who were next to Morales during the argument and allegedly fled the scene, the police only said, “The case is still under investigation.”

Reginald Sharpe, Morales’ attorney, did not return calls from El Diario-La Prensa.

Carson’s family identified his body, but they still haven’t claimed it from the medical examiner’s office.

According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Carson became the 22nd victim of a hate crime this year.

Jewish Voices Speak Out

A makeshift memorial for hate crime victim Mark Carson at 396 Sixth Ave. (Photo by Steve Guttman, Flickr Creative Commons License)

In the first of two pieces, the Jewish Daily Forward’s Michael Kaminer reached out to get reaction from leading Jewish LGBT figures, not just as members of the LGBT community, but also as Jewish people.

One of those leaders works at an LGBTQ synogague near the scene of the shooting.

“We’re located in the Village, so it’s not just a gay issue for us,” Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, longtime spiritual leader of LGBTQ synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, told the Forward in an interview. “It’s our backyard.” Kleinbaum drew a connection between Carson’s murder and violence against Jews. “I have tried through the years of being rabbi at CBST to strengthen people to not be destroyed in the face of the kind of hate that exists in the world toward us, both as Jews and as gay people,” she said.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in lower Manhattan, stressed, in an email to The Forward, that change comes from within, not simply from legislation.

“This is yet another reminder that laws are not enough. The solution is not complicated but is urgently needed: public outreach; education in schools; cultural competency for law enforcement; and the voices of leaders of every faith, political party and persuasion to adamantly condemn all forms of discrimination. In every corner of the world, change takes time but we cannot afford to waste another moment and lose another member of our community to hate. “

In a column for the Forward Thinking blog on the Jewish Daily Forward, Jay Michaelson gives a Jewish voice to the killing of Carson. In response to the shock expressed to the murder, he writes, “Really?” Had Carson been targeted for being Jewish, that same shock and anger would surface, but it would “probably” stop short of surprise. That, he writes, should also run through the LGBT community. He points to a sort of naive and complacent thinking that the worst is over. However, the roots of injustice run far deeper.

The advances in same-sex marriage, the cultural acceptance of LGBT people, and other hard-earned markers of the normalization of sexual diversity are all crucial signposts on the path to equality, and they did not come about overnight; they were, in fact, the culmination of decades of struggle. But none of them, nor all of them altogether, can uproot the roots of homophobia, which lie (among other places) within religion, culture, and psychology.

We Jews know this, I think. Yet we gays seem not to.

The predominant LGBT myth is one of unabashed assimilation, in which all enlightened people understand that sexual orientation does not predict one’s moral worth, and act accordingly. Many in the LGBT movement don’t understand, I don’t think, that in social struggles, legal equality is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

In learning from the Jewish experience, the reality remains that the hostility and oppression of yesteryear never go away.

We’ve learned that it’s folly to imagine that because some of us are secure, all of us are secure. Today, LGBT people in red states, in conservative religious families, in many communities of color, or in economically disadvantaged communities are all vulnerable, even though I may not be. Likewise those whose gender presentation is different from the norm, or who do not “pass,” or who are not “just like everyone else.” These are people who live in constant threat of violence and marginalization, often intersecting with other forms of oppression. Violence can strike anyone, anywhere. But it should also remind us that some people live with this fear every day.

Most of all, I think, we Jews have learned that the mission is never accomplished. Those buffeted by privilege – Jewish Republicans, wealthy gays in New York or San Francisco – can delude themselves into thinking that now that they’re “in,” the battle is won. Indeed, some have recently opined that gay organizations should shut their doors, and victory may now be declared.

But oppression is oppression, and it has been with us since the mythical days of Egypt. It does not go away simply because some former victims are now cozy and safe. This is why Jews are commanded to remember that we were once slaves: so that we remember what oppression is, and don’t forget it in our gated communities and exclusive clubs. Once, we were on the other sides of the gates.

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