Disappointing news in the investigation into the shootings of three Newark college students. The case will not be prosecuted as an anti-gay hate crime and reports indicate the families of the victims "do not want" their deceased children identified as gay.
Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey were killed in August 2007 when they were shot execution style outside a Newark elementary school. Harvey was openly gay and the crew "had planned to drive together to New York City the next morning to attend a black Gay Pride event at Riis Park Beach", a source tells the Washington Blade. Police also say at least one woman was sexually assaulted. Seven men face charges, four of them are juveniles.
"We have not been able to establish a hate crime" under the definition of the New Jersey hate crimes statute, Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue announced. "We don't have probable cause for a hate crime."
Black gay activists say the families of the victims "did not support efforts to publicly identify the murders as an anti-gay hate crime. 'We were told that anything related to the victims' sexual orientation should remain a private matter,' said James Credle, co-president of Newark Pride Alliance, a gay group. 'They made it clear that they didn't want the case to go in that direction.' " The police and mayor have refused to label the case as more than a "robbery gone wrong" and Credle says anti-gay stigma remains strong in Newark's predominately black community.
This must be a difficult time for the families and they are entitled to their privacy. Unfortunately, if the victims were killed because they were gay (or the perception thereof), the beefed up charges would send a strong message to other families and the many young black gay men and lesbians in Newark and across New Jersey.