Missing the Point?

Two of the three men police have been after for the hate-crime murder of José Sucuzhañay have been arrested.¹  No mention is being made of the third man.  Maybe he’s not being sought any longer?

The story of this killing is horrible and terrifying, and every bit of reporting I’ve read about it has reflected that horror and terror.  In some ways I appreciate that, appreciate that news outlets across the board (no, I have no idea what the Post had to say about it) seem to have been completely outraged by the killing of this young man.

But on the other hand … there’s another piece of the reporting that troubles me.  The Sucuzhañay brothers were attacked because their attackers thought they were gay.  Yes, there was anti-Latino anger involved, too, but it’s less likely that the men would have been attacked ‘just’ for being Latino.  It was perceived homosexuality that pulled Hakim Scott, Keith Phoenix and their friend out of that car.  And I’m glad that the killing was reported as a hate crime, that Scott and Phoenix are being charged with murder as a hate crime.  What I’m not loving is the slightly troubling way the words are being put together.

Report after report says the Sucuzhañay brothers were attacked after they were seen walking arm in arm, after their attackers made the assumption that the men were gay … and every report is quick to point out that the brothers aren’t gay.  And in some cases there’s the implication that the reporter is saying, “See?  This is why it was wrong for them to be attacked: they. weren’t. even. gay.”  Which sounds to me like a way of saying it would be ok to beat a man to death if you knew for sure that he was gay.

I don’t really think any of the reporters I’ve been listening to mean to be saying that.  Really I don’t.  But there’s something ugly about the way the detail of  José Sucuzhañay’s straightness is held up to increase our outrage, held up like a banner letting us know that we really should be upset about his death because he “wasn’t even gay.”  As if we shouldn’t be upset that gay people get beaten, raped and murdered because they are gay.  As if there wouldn’t be as much reason to be outraged over the murder of this lovely-seeming young man if, on top of all his other skills, qualities, and successes, he happened to be gay.  As if this whole story isn’t about homophobia.  Rabid, murderous homophobia that continues to go unchecked in our society.

I know that telling us José Sucuzhañay wasn’t gay is part of giving us the facts, part of the objective reporting I keep saying I wish we’d get more of.  But there’s something in the delivery of that fact nine times out of ten that holds the tacit acceptance of gay-bashing.  “Yes, yes, we’d all be upset if a gay man had been beaten to death,” it seems to say, “but come on, you could understand why those guys got out of the car, right?”

I’m wrong on this, I know.  I know.  But I can’t help that this is what I hear in the emphasis on this one point in the story.

Erika at Be Gay About It posted a videoabout the Christian right’s appropriation of the term ‘bashing’ and how their definition of bashing compares to what happens to gays. It’s definitely worth checking out. Near the end of the video, José Sucuzhañay’s story is presented and the host ends by saying, “Now you don’t even have to be gay to be killed for being gay.”

Exactly.  Because whether you’re gay, whether I’m gay, whether anyone you or I know is gay … it doesn’t matter.  There are people out there ready to beat us to death because their irrational fear of homosexuality has been allowed to fester into a killing rage.  And there are a lot of other people out there who either aren’t aware of that fact or don’t have that much of a problem with it.  And how can any of us be ok with that?  How many more Lawrence Kings and Moses Cannons and Steven Parrishes and Ryan Skippers and David Morleys and Michael Causers and José Sucuzhañays do there need to be?


¹  Of the two, Hakim Scott has expressed remorse.  And I can believe that he feels remorse.  If I ever killed a person, no matter how righteous I felt about the killing in the moment, I’d surely feel plenty of remorse later.  But the angry cynic in the back of my head wonders: is he sorry because he killed a man or because the man he killed turned out not to be gay?  Keith Phoenix, however, seems not at all concerned that he killed a man.  Reports of comments he made at his arrest are chilling.

9 thoughts on “Missing the Point?

  1. I understand your point.

    I’ve been guilty of adding the “and he wasn’t even gay” caveat to my initial reporting. After attending the press conference and candlelight vigil, that detail made the story even more poignant. Jose, it seemed, got caught in someone else’s war. As innocent as a toddler killed in Gaza.

    Yes, there are those who feel, however subconsciously, that gays deserve what they get. But I don’t think that attitude plays so much a part in this story as does the innocent victim slain in the war between hate and reason.

    Yes, Jose wasn’t even gay. It shouldn’t really matter when a man is killed in the street by strangers with bats, but when they yell faggot while doing it — well, it amounts to more time in jail and is certainly worth mentioning.

    Still, I understand your point, and have felt the same vibe myself. ~


  2. You are so right, the focus should be on the crime itself – not on the orientation of the victim. I find that on the odd occasion the media “get it” they really don’t want to and inevitably move to something safe and cliche.


  3. Taylor and Lee– Thanks for reading. Taylor, I’m with you 100%. Your last point: “Yes, Jose wasn’t even gay. It shouldn’t really matter when a man is killed in the street by strangers with bats, but when they yell faggot while doing it — well, it amounts to more time in jail and is certainly worth mentioning.” is exactly what I was driving at. Let’s stop focusing on the fact that he wasn’t gay. Let’s keep the focus squarely on the fact that he was killed because someone thought he was. It drives me crazy that the drumbeat of “he wasn’t gay” sometimes drowns out the need for us to focus on the prevalence of hate crimes.


  4. Yes, I was thinking about Matthew Shepard as I wrote this post, thinking if we’d managed to change something in our culture after he was killed, we wouldn’t be mourning the loss of José Sucuzhañay today.


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