New York City council speaker Christine Quinn and Staten Island school leaders took the latest step Friday in a multipart response to the wave of hate crimes that afflicted the borough earlier this year.
On Friday afternoon Quinn met with the principals of five schools in the Port Richmond area, the epicenter of 11 suspected hate crimes on Staten Island's North Shore between April and August that included an attack on a gay couple at a White Castle restaurant. The attacks predominantly targeted Mexicans and involved African-American suspects.
According to Quinn, the purpose of the meeting was to hear from the principals about how their elementary, middle, and high schools had addressed the surge in violence, which appears to have subsided in the borough, but not citywide. The meeting aimed to probe the causes of the attacks and to ask the administrators for help in generating local solutions, while encouraging them to increase participation in the city's ongoing Respect for All initiative, which combats bullying and harassment in schools.
"We wanted to add a little extra push and focus because of what happened this year, to say, let's make it even stronger this year," Quinn said in an interview before the meeting. The meeting, which was closed to press, also drew city council member Debi Rose, who represents the Port Richmond area, and members of I Am Staten Island, a group formed in the wake of the violence.
Compared to last year, reported incidents of hate crimes throughout the city and on Staten Island had doubled by August, with 222 suspected incidents across the city and 26 such incidents investigated in the borough. Those police statistics do not include the brutal gang-related assault on a gay man and two teens in the Bronx, and the attack on a gay man at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan perpetrated by two men from Staten Island. The two incidents, along with a series of attacks at other gay bars in Manhattan's West Village and Chelsea, were reported in October.
Like many shocked New Yorkers, Quinn could not explain all the reasons for the widespread spike in violence.
"I wish I knew exactly what tied it all together," she said. "In that sense, if you knew what tied it together, you might have a better sense of what the solution would be. We've had a summer and fall in multiple boroughs where we have seen hate crimes on the rise, and that's something that is unacceptable."
In the case of the antigay attack on Staten Island, Richard and Luis
Vieira stopped at a White Castle restaurant in Stapleton early one
morning in July, when they were confronted by a group of
African-American youths, one of whom directed a homophobic slur at Luis.
Moments later, Luis was struck in the back of the head, and in the
ensuing commotion he ran to the restaurant's parking lot, where he found
Richard semi-unconscious and bleeding from a punch to the head.
A spokesman for the Staten Island district attorney said Friday that the investigation remains open and no arrests have been made.
response to the White Castle incident and the multiple assaults on Mexicans,
community members formed the group I Am Staten Island and developed a
10-point plan, which includes strengthening the antibias programming in
schools. The Friday meeting sought to follow up on that point, while other
parts of the plan, like interfaith dialogue, community trainings, and
public safety improvements including security cameras, already are
under way, according to Quinn.
"I would be very happy if after this meeting we are
able to set up an ongoing group of principals," she said. "I would be
very happy if we came out with some specific Staten Island-targeted work
that was born of this meeting, born of the principals in the room, and I
would love it if we could figure out some type of a similar PSA
generated by the students themselves or putting the PSA the mayor and I
just did in the schools on Staten island," she said.
following the antigay assault in the Bronx, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and
Speaker Quinn launched the Love Love, Hate Hate public service advertising campaign, which appears in English and Spanish in print ads
around the city and on city-sponsored television channels.
the difficult past few months, Quinn emphasized the responsiveness of
the community on Staten Island. The least populated and most racially
homogeneous of the five boroughs, connected to Manhattan by ferry,
Staten Island historically has struggled with a reputation for insularity and intolerance. Since 2007 the borough has been represented
by an openly gay state assemblyman, Matt Titone.
"It's a borough
with growing diversity," said Quinn. "I think this was an unfortunate
period of incidents perpetrated by individuals who don't represent
Staten Island. Why this summer, why this way, it's a question I don't
have an answer to."
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