Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes
Twelve years ago, the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. — often considered a bastion of diversity — was jolted by the murder of Julio Rivera.
Rivera was beaten to death in an area with several gay bars and a well-known cruising block. According to local activist Andres Duque, "If you wanted to bash a gay Latino, this is where you'd go."
Things had changed since 1990, when Rivera's murder galvanized the local gay community and turned it into a political force. Or so most people thought before Aug. 15.
Early that morning, less than a block away from where Rivera was killed, Colombia native Edgar Garzon had his head bashed in with a lead pipe or a baseball bat — police aren't sure which.
Garzon, a set designer for local theater companies, lay unconscious for three weeks before dying on Sept. 4.
Garzon was passing through the cruising area with a friend, headed home from a restaurant, when a car pulled up beside him around 4 a.m. The two men in the car said something to Garzon. His friend didn't hear what was said.
A few minutes later, after Garzon and his friend said goodbye for the night and parted, the car apparently circled around the block and caught up with Garzon again.
A surveillance camera on a nearby bank caught the car, but not the men inside. It also showed Garzon stopping and "looking intently inside the car, staring them down," according to his friend, Duque. Words were exchanged.
When Garzon started back on his way, someone in the car went after him — and out of camera range. His friend heard tires screech, ran back and found Garzon lying in a pool of blood.
Duque said it wouldn't have been out of character for Garzon to stare down a harasser. "He was a very introspective person. But if he didn't like somebody, he would let the person know. He could be a big diva."
Garzon had to be tough to make it after he left his family in Colombia and moved to New York. But Duque said he carried an "inner glow" that made people gravitate toward him — even if they would usually shun a gay man.
One of Garzon's coffin-bearers was the 22-year-old son of his best friend, a single mother who immigrated from Colombia and became attached to Garzon.
"He's a rough Latino boy," Duque said of the woman's son, "but he loved Eddie. After the attack, he wanted to go get those guys."
Police are investigating Garzon's murder as a hate crime, but had made no arrests when this issue went to press.
Waqar Hasan, 46
Waqar Hasan was sick of lawlessness. In the 1980s, political chaos has turned his home town of Karachi, Pakistan, into an explosive mess.
Hasan's father and one of his brothers were kidnapped by political extremists looking to raise money. And then, in 1989, Hasan found himself at the end of a pistol, held to his temple as he was robbed of his car and cash.
Later that year, Hasan brought his wife and four daughters to the United States. "He thought it was better to live in a civilized society," his brother-in-law, Kahid Ghani, told the Intelligence Report.
The night of Sept. 15, while manning his ramshackle grocery and check-cashing store in a blue-collar neighborhood called Pleasant Grove, Hasan found himself looking down the barrel of another gun. This time it fired, shooting him in the head.
Police said Hasan's shooter may have coaxed him out from behind a bullet-proof cashier's area by requesting a sandwich. They have investigated the murder as a possible hate crime, but without success.
"No motive, no robber, no suspects," read a police report describing Hasan's killing.
His brother-in-law offered a different summary of the crime: "The civilized society gave him death."
Hasan is remembered as an eminently civilized man, quiet but personable. In New Jersey, where he lived before moving to Texas, an elderly next-door neighbor said Hasan used to cut her grass, shovel her snow and drive to the store for her.
"He always told me, 'You have already done your share,' " Florence Bialkowski told the Home News Tribune.
Along with losing a husband and father, Hasan's wife and four daughters may have lost their best chance for permanent residency in the United States because they were listed as applicants under Waqar Hasan's name.
Once a person dies, his petition dies with him.
Willie Houston, 38
Life was looking good for Willie Houston. A bus driver for special-needs customers of Metro Transit in Nashville, Tenn., the 38-year-old celebrated his engagement to Nedra Jones on July 29 with a midnight cruise down the Mississippi.
After the boat docked, Jones asked Houston to hold her purse while she went to the rest room. Then a friend, who is blind, asked Houston to accompany him to the men's room.
A purse on one arm and a male friend on the other, Houston ran into Lewis Maynard Davidson III, a 25-year-old with a lengthy arrest record. Davidson allegedly taunted Houston with anti-gay slurs, then followed him out of the rest room.
Jones told a local newspaper that Houston remained calm, refusing to rise to the bait. "Not one harsh word did he say to him," she said, "because that's not Willie."
But Davidson kept harassing Houston as they walked toward the parking lot. According to Jones, Davidson said, "I've got something for you in my car" and went off across the lot.
As Jones and Houston said goodbye to their blind friend and another friend, Jones said they heard Davidson's voice again: "Now what you got to say?" he said, pointing a gun at Houston.
Houston held up his hands, according to Jones, and tried to reason with his assailant. "Man, we had a good time, and I'm just ready to go home and go to bed." Davidson allegedly fired anyway, hitting Houston in the chest.
Two months after the shooting, Davidson was allegedly caught with crack cocaine in Ohio. At press time, Tennessee officials were awaiting his extradition.
Under Tennessee's hate-crime law, sentences can be enhanced when a crime is committed because of the victim's real or perceived sexual identity. Prosecutors were "considering" whether to invoke the law.