Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin, the gay man convicted of assaulting two other gay men at New York City’s Dallas BBQ restaurant in May 2015, was sentenced today to nine years in prison and three years of supervision after his release, Gay City News reports.
El-Amin had initially claimed he was defending himself in the altercation with Jonathan Snipes and Ethan York-Adams at the Chelsea restaurant. Indeed, surveillance video showed Snipes starting the fight. But El-Amin, according to prosecutors, continued the fight after Snipes had given up. Additional video showed him “hitting the two men on their heads with a heavy wooden chair as they stand with their backs to him,” the paper notes.
“The case boils down to this defendant took it too far,” prosecutor Leah Saxtein said during the sentencing hearing, according to Gay City News. “He decided to get revenge. … He used a dangerous instrument to strike them in the most vulnerable part of the human body.”
As the case was investigated, Snipes said El-Amin had used homophobic slurs toward him and York-Adams, who was his partner at the time. But El-Amin objected to early media characterizations of the incident as a hate crime, as he is gay too. El-Amin also said racism was at play in the coverage and in the charges against him, as he is black and the other two men are white. The case was not prosecuted as a hate crime, and in May of this year a jury found El-Amin guilty of two counts of first-degree attempted assault and two counts of second-degree assault.
“The jury rejected your claim of self-defense,” Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arlene Goldberg said at the sentencing. “That you did not cause serious physical injury to [Snipes and York-Adams] was only a matter of luck.”
Some observers agreed with El-Amin that he was a victim of racism. A widely shared social media post accused Snipes and York-Adams of exploiting white privilege, and many of the people attending the sentencing wore light blue armbands or headbands as a symbol of support for El-Amin, Gay City News notes. He also spoke at the hearing, describing his accusers as “drunk white men who felt they were entitled to swing on me.”
But the judge did not agree. “I know that you want to cast this, your supporters as well, as an issue about race,” Goldberg said. “I don’t see it that way. … When you picked up that chair, that was a criminal act that cannot be excused.”
El-Amin’s lawyer had sought the minimum sentence, three and a half years, for the charges on which he was convicted. The prosecution sought 12 years plus five years of post-release supervision. El-Amin has a record of 29 felony convictions across several states, Saxtein said.
El-Amin contended he shouldn’t be judged on his past behavior and that he is now a different man, involved in community service. “Yes, I have a past record,” he said in court today, according the paper. “I own up to that. I paid for everything I’ve done.”
Snipes and York-Adams did not attend the hearing. They are no longer a couple, and York-Adams now lives in Tennessee, while Snipes still lives in New York City, Gay City News reports.