On Saturday, October 17, 2009, a rally was held in College Point, Queens. It was in response to the savage beating of Jack Price by two young men from that community in the early morning hours of Friday, October 9. Caught on a surveillance video tape, the entire beating can be watched from beginning to end (including a car driving by that does not stop to help Jack Price).
Watching that video was like watching someone be beaten to death without any sound to record the punches on the body or the sounds made as he was hit. The tape is in black and white, so there is no red blood, no red and green lights of the changing stop lights. It is a contextless beating, senseless, random and unprovoked. The two attackers seem both hesitant and intent without any defensive response from the victim as if he were meeting his death. Yet one wonders what Daniel Rodriguez and Daniel Aleman could have been thinking as they attacked Jack Price. What comes across was their obsessive battering at a man's body without any sense of what it was they were really doing. Once the two Daniels walked away, Jack stood up. More a carcass at that point, it felt to me as if his soul had left his body and he was about to die. He walked like a punch-drunk fighter. But he had never raised his fists. I watched as he stood up, fell down, his body seeming to just roll around on the ground. With no sound, I cannot hear if he cried for help or just in pain. But the standing up and the falling down recur until he just stood up, walked out of range of the camera and the video tape rolled on with the empty street and the changing stop lights.
When the hunt began for the two men who beat Jack Price, the sound track got turned on--the cries of anger, blame, horror, fear, shame came through loud and clear. All of a sudden what had been a silent black and white event became a full-throated cacophony of voices. It became a circus of pain that made the consequences of the beating more vibrant, more insistent and more audacious in a way than those who did the beating could have anticipated.The two young men have been arrested and are awaiting trial. They will not be out on bail any time soon.
In short order, a rally was planned in College Point to protest the beating on the very streets where it had occurred. We all knew that this was a hate crime. A number of LGBT organizations put the event together and I learned about it on Facebook. This was also occurring while Congress was voting to include gender orientation and sexuality to the hate crime bill. Spearheaded by Matthew Shepard's mother, this legislation did pass the following week.
I had never been to College Point before and it seemed awfully bleak that Saturday afternoon of the rally. The day itself was gloomy but College Point Boulevard was deserted. The police had completely blocked off the street from 20th Avenue down to 14th Avenue. The few hundred people chanting and shouting gave the street more life than it had before and after the march. As we marched along the boulevard, people peeked out at us and waved from behind their blinds in their apartments above hair salons and pizza parlors and Chinese restaurants. Like much of Queens, the place is diverse. Yet, as one man said to me as we stood watching the crowd, College Point is a town that time forgot.
I am not sure if it is time or opportunity that forgot about College Point. With no subway line into College Point, it negates what Bill Thompson said during the rally, "This is New York City," he posited as if there were any doubt where we were and what that meant. But looking around, College Point more resembles small-town American life than life in New York City. It is a place where young people have absolutely nothing to do but hang out on the streets and reinforce their own unformed ideas and prejudices and become frustrated with how little there is to do. Thus some form of frustrated violence is bound to occur. This is not a justification for what they did but rather a way to see into the lives of people who rarely, it would seem, have anyone from outside their enclave pay attention to them.
When the parade reached the park and the speakers stood up to denounce what was done to Jack Price, it stunned me that across the street from where members of Jack Price's family as well as a whole slew of elected officials stood (including the Queens Borough President, Helen Marshall; the Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn; the Comptroller and Democratic candidate for Mayor, Bill Thompson, along with numbers of other elected officials), a counter demonstration by Daniel Rodriguez's friends had formed. Somehow they felt a need to be there for him and to proclaim that this was not a hate crime, as if a beating for some other reason was justified so long as it was not a hate crime.