NEW YORK (AP) — The killing of a gay man who police say was taunted with homophobic slurs drew thousands of people to the scene of the crime to restore a sense of safety to one of the nation’s most gay-friendly neighborhoods.
Fabio Cotza, a gay member of an interfaith Bronx church, said he looked around cautiously when he stepped out of the subway in Greenwich Village Monday evening to join the rally.
He said the killing “really makes me scared … especially since it happened in this area.”
His reaction was not unusual after a spate of bias attacks stirred up anxiety, disbelief and outrage even before 32-year-old Mark Carson was felled by a single gunshot to the head early Saturday near from the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the gay rights movement.
The crowd Monday carried flags and signs and chanted: “We’re here! We’re queer!” and “Homophobia’s got to go!”
Christine Quinn, the city’s first openly gay City Council speaker, marched along with Edie Windsor, whose pivotal case to win the same rights for gay couples as heterosexual couples is before the Supreme Court.
Carson was killed Saturday as he walked with a companion through the Village. Police say a man charged with murder as a hate crime shot Carson in the heart of one of the city’s most progressive neighborhoods.
Following the deadly shooting, officials said Monday that police would increase their presence there and in nearby neighborhoods through the end of June, Gay Pride Month.
A group that combats anti-gay violence planned to fan out to various areas on Friday nights through June to talk to people about safety. And public schools are being asked to hold assemblies or other discussions of hate crimes and bullying before summer break.
One of Carson’s aunts, Flourine Bompars, attended the march.
“The family would like to have justice be served, so that Mark’s death is not in vain,” she said at a rally at the march’s end.
Elliot Morales is being held without bail in Carson’s death. He hasn’t yet entered a plea, and his lawyer didn’t immediately return a call Monday.
The city and especially the Village have long been beacons for gay people. The gay rights movement crystallized in the Village in June 1969, when a police raid at the Stonewall Inn touched off a riot and demonstrations that came to symbolize gays’ resistance to being relegated to society’s shadows.
Yet gay-bashing has continued to flare up in New York at times in recent years. In one particularly sinister case, three men connected with a 28-year-old man online in 2006, lured him to a rest stop off a Brooklyn highway with a promise of a date and mugged him, chasing him into traffic; he was hit and killed.
In 2010, authorities said Bronx gang members beat and tortured four people in an anti-gay rage, two men were accused of a gay-bashing beating at the Stonewall Inn itself and a man spewed homophobic insults while throwing a punch at another Village bar — all assaults that happened within little more than a week.
Police say there has been a rise in bias-related crimes overall so far this year, to 22 from 13 during the same period last year. The New York City Anti-Violence Project, a nonprofit group that tracks police and other reports of hate attacks against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, says its numbers rose 13 percent in 2011 and 11 percent the previous year.
But officials and advocates can’t pinpoint a reason for the recent rash of attacks or even whether it reflects more violence or more aggressive reporting of incidents.
Advocates see such attacks in the context of a culture that has grown more accepting of gays in some ways — 12 states have now legalized gay marriage — but doesn’t universally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Carson’s shooting came after other attacks fueled by anti-gay animus in recent weeks, authorities say. Those include a report last month of a man making anti-gay remarks and attacking a woman with a ketchup bottle at a Village diner; a man told police he and a friend were victims of a gay bashing outside a subway station in Midtown Manhattan this month; and two men walking arm-in-arm near Madison Square Garden report being jumped by a group of men on May 5, police said.
“This happened in Midtown, during the day, with a ton of people around,” one of the victims, Nick Porto, wrote in a Facebook posting. “… When are we safe?”