Bronx Fights Back

At the scene of the vicious and brutal anti-gay attacks allegedly carried out by the Latin King Goonies in the Mount Morris section of the Bronx, political and community leaders from the borough were joined on Saturday, October 9, by Governor David Paterson, Congressman José Serrano, and Speaker Christine Quinn in condemning the crimes, demanding justice for the victims, and calling for an end to the anti-gay rhetoric and attitudes that can lead to violence against LGBT people.

They also leafleted the neighborhood seeking information on the suspects then still at large.

“We’ll do everything to bring them to justice and turn this tragedy around,” said Quinn.

Pols decry heinous attacks; residents say cops missed chance to stop gang

The NYPD has arrested nine Bronx men affiliated with a group calling itself the Latin King Goonies, ranging in age from 16 to 23, for three separate attacks on October 3 in which three men — two 17-year-olds and a 30-year-old — were held captive in an empty apartment, forced to confess to homosexual behavior, and then tortured, one of them slashed with a box cutter, one sodomized with a plunger handle, and another sodomized with a small baseball bat.

While everyone is united in their revulsion over these crimes, it became apparent in the Bronx on Saturday morning that some opportunities to bring this gang to justice before they allegedly unleashed their anti-gay spasms of violence were missed.

Nicole Key, a local African-American mother who came out to join those condemning these attacks, said that she and her neighbors have been complaining about this gang and others for years. “Our kids have not been able to walk home from school safely,” she said. Her son is 12, and he and even younger peers are constantly getting “beat up and robbed,” she said.

Key said, “We had meetings” with the local police precinct, and that her State Assembly member, Vanessa Gibson, who spoke at the press conference, had been “helpful.” But the only thing the 46th Precinct would say about the problem was “we’re looking into it,” she said.

Gibson said mentoring programs in schools and churches have been helpful in countering the gang problem, but that resources for them have been “pulled back by the city and state” in the current budget crunch. “We have to have more outlets for children,” she said.

Key, a resident of the area for more than 30 years, said the neighborhood “has gone down” because of the attacks on children and the elderly by gang members. “Children can’t be themselves,” she said. “They can’t even go play in the park.”

City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who represents this northwest Bronx area, said that up until last January, “there wasn’t even a youth center in the district.” Now, he said, there is a Boys and Girls Club serving 3,000, but there is a waiting list to get in. “The kids don’t have anything to do, creating a vacuum” that is filled for some by gang membership, he said. He also cited 14.6 percent unemployment in the district.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was asked by Gay City News how the Latin King Goonies escaped police attention. “They are not a classic gang,” he said at a City Hall press conference with Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg later that day. “They’re a neighborhood gang of young men hanging out at that location” and were not in the NYPD’s database on gangs. He said that, according to NYPD statistics, crime is down in the 46th Precinct. “There’s been a spate of shootings, but it is much safer than it was,” he said.

On October 11, Quinn told Gay City News that she is following up with “women I met there” in the Bronx such as Key, and intends to do “town meetings. We’ll have an entire plan” to get to the bottom of gang violence in Mount Morris.

Xavier Rodriguez, the District Manager of Bronx Community Board 5, contested the idea that the area has gone downhill lately or is anti-gay. “We have our problems,” he said, “but we’re welcoming to everyone.”

Dr. Bola Omotusho, the board’s chair, acknowledged that gangs have been a problem “for 15 years now. They fall into two categories — wannabes and gangs themselves. The wannabes commit crimes to show toughness” and that’s where he put the Latin King Goonies.

At the press conference outside the crime scene — which is right across the street from a modern elementary school — there was no shortage of disgust at the attacks and praise for the police work in capturing the suspects.

“It’s hard to imagine what would fuel this,” Quinn said, though some of the suspects are apparently now telling police that they feared for their own safety if they refused to participate in the attacks. She called the perpetrators “cowards,” and with zero public sympathy for them and the penalty enhancements that hate crime charges bring with them, it is likely those convicted will be spending long stretches in the slammer. There was no talk at the rostrum of root causes or the desperation that leads kids to choose gangs.

Quinn also said that the perpetrators “do not represent the Bronx, our city, or what our city thinks about the lesbian and gay community.” However, more than 90 percent of Bronx residents in the Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr.’s State Senate district re-elect him every two years, despite his long history as a virulent anti-gay crusader.

Heriberto Sanchez Soto, executive director of the Hispanic AIDS Forum, called on Diaz “to make a declaration of tolerance” to his congregation “about the value and dignity of every individual.” Diaz’s son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., was not at the press conference, but was represented by his deputy, Aurelia Green, who said, “Bronxites will not tolerate any form of bigotry.” Green, of course, made no allusion to the bigotry routinely voiced by her boss’ father.

Earlier, Congressman Serrano spoke against those politicians who attack gay people to win votes. “To my colleagues, I say, ‘Don’t!’ Some misguided person can hear that, and it can lead to a physical attack.”

Governor Paterson called the attack “vile, loathsome, and despicable conduct,” and defended hate crime laws that add penalties. “When you attack an individual, that’s one thing,” he said. “When you attack someone because of who they are, the randomness is an attack on society itself.” He also took to task those on cable TV and talk radio who attack gay people, but when asked why he keeps appearing on Don Imus’ radio/ TV show, despite its host’s long history of anti-gay, racist, and sexist remarks, the governor said he would continue doing so, “but will bring it up with him.”

Besides the press conference itself, Saturday morning hinted at other bright spots for LGBT people in the Bronx. Local residents responded well to the leafleting in search of suspects that followed the event.

Reverend Paul Block of the Transfiguration Lutheran Church there said he runs a “welcoming congregation” that “affirms gay relationships” and doesn’t perform weddings for anyone because gay people aren’t allowed to marry in the state.

Dirk McCall, the executive director of the Bronx Community Pride Center, said his organization serves 4,000 LGBT youth a year and presents a “Sexual Matters” workshop on LGBT issues in every high school that will let them in. The Pride Center also has programs for LGBT adults.

The nine men arrested — Ildefonzo Mendez, 23; Elmer Confresi, 23; Rudy Vargas-Perez, 22; David Rivera, 21; Steven Caraballo, Denis Peitars, Nelson Falu, and Bryan Almonte, all 17; and Brian Cepeda, 16 — face a wide array of charges, including unlawful imprisonment, sexual abuse, assault, and robbery as hate crimes.

“There’s clearly more work to be done here,” said Quinn. “We have to make sure every person is free to be whoever they are.”