Hate-Crime Sentence and Ruling on Marriage Cross a Spectrum of Justice

Just as civil rights groups rejoiced at the landmark Proposition 8
ruling in California, a more subdued legal advancement on the same
battlefront unfolded on the other side of the country. Two men
convicted of the 2008 beating death of an Ecuadorean immigrant were sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.

The bloody attack in Brooklyn was evidently driven by anti-Latino
and anti-gay rage. The two men spotted Jose Sucuzhanay and his brother
walking in an embrace after a night of drinking at a church party. They
represented two easy targets for brutality: Latino immigrants--lately
besieged by a wave of violence in the New York City area--and the LGBT
community--besieged by various right-wing assaults as they assert their
civil rights on the national stage.

The sensational story, as recounted in the Daily News,
displayed a twisted violent indulgence, girded by the irony that the
attacker was another person of color:

Phoenix, who is black, had shouted anti-Hispanic and gay
epithets at the 31-year-old victim before repeatedly whacking him over
the head with an aluminum baseball bat after Scott had jumped out of an
SUV and smashed him with a beer bottle.

Sucuzhanay and his brother Romel were set upon as they boozily
walked, arm-in-arm, home from a church party.

Phoenix was in such a frenzy he appeared to convulse as he
struck the defenseless victim with a bat, witnesses said.

After leaving him mortally injured in the gutter, a
surveillance image taken at a bridge toll booth showed him laughing
maniacally as the pair drove to the Bronx for a night of more partying
and skirt-chasing.

The attack touched two dimensions of the country's civil rights
crisis. In a sense, Sucuzhanay's murder represents the other end of the
spectrum of the "right to marry" debate--the core issue wasn't merely
access to a civic institution; it was the right not to be killed. Yet
his death under a hail of anti-gay and racial epithets underscores that
senseless brutality stems from the marginalization of any group,
whether based on ethnicity or sexual orientation. The troubled term "hate crime," unfortunately, oversimplifies the
psychological subtext. In the end, it's more about the attacker's sense
of supremacy, than about the identity of the victim.

In light of Sucuzhanay's tragedy, the struggle to give LGBT people
the right to a marriage certificate may seem more trivial. But Judge Walker's ruling speaks to a spectrum of
that dehumanizes people on many levels, at the county
courthouse or on the street. If we fail to hold the line on one tip of
our framework of civil rights, such as the equal dignity of a couple's
union, then we erode the foundation of a more basic freedom: the right
to be safe at night--no matter where we are, where we're from, or whom
we choose to hold.

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