By Victor Martin
NEW YORK – The family of Ecuadorian Jose Sucuzhañay, slain in New York in December 2008, and some elected officials demanded Friday greater severity on the part of the judiciary against hate crimes associated with race, religion or sexual orientation.
“The judicial system has failed to send a clear message,” the victim’s brother Diego said during a press conference a day after a jury found Hakim Scott guilty of manslaughter, but acquitted him on the more serious charges of murder and hate crime.
“Our family still can’t understand how the jury has come to the conclusion that the attack on my brothers and the murder of Jose was not motivated by hate,” Diego Sucuzhañay said on the steps of the courthouse.
He recalled that none of the witnesses who testified during the Scott trial said that Jose and his brother Romel, who was also attacked, had done anything to provoke Scott and codefendant Keith Phoenix.
Diego said his brothers were accosted because they looked Hispanic and because Scott and Phoenix mistakenly took them for a gay couple, as Jose and Romel were walking arm in arm.
The incident occurred Dec. 7, 2008, when the Sucuzhañay brothers were walking down a street in Brooklyn hugging each other to protect themselves from the cold and were attacked by two men, who got out of a vehicle and after making racial slurs and insulting comments about homosexuals, attacked them.
Jose was assaulted with a bottle and a baseball bat while he was on the ground and died later in hospital after being in a coma for several days, while his brother Romel managed to get away from the assailants.
“This process has brought out all the memories that we went through almost two years ago, when Jose was attacked and we went to the hospital and we tried to stay optimistic that Jose would survive. Now we know he won’t survive, he won’t come back, but at least we hoped the system would send a message so that there are no other Joses,” Diego Sucuzhañay said Friday.
Christine Quinn, president of the New York City Council, said for her part that family members, elected officials and civic community leaders present at the verdict wished it had been different.
“Jose Sucuzhañay was murdered because Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix did not like who he is and who they thought he was,” Quinn said. “And they attacked him, by all accounts, for no other reason than their hatred of the LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) community and their hatred of Latinos and immigrants. That’s what killed Jose Sucuzhañay.”
Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez agreed that the jury’s failure to convict Scott of a hate crime “sent the wrong message.”
The Democratic lawmaker said that her office intends to study the case to determine whether there is a basis for pressing charges of breaking federal civil-rights laws.
If such grounds exist, Velazaquez said she would ask U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to file federal charges against Scott and Phoenix. EFE