Tolerance is hard to find in Syracuse these days
Forty years after Stonewall, with an African-American family in the White House, a Latina woman poised to take her seat on the Supreme Court, and the legally blind governor of New York state pushing for equal rights for gay couples to marry, you might say these are high times for equality and tolerance in our land.
And then there are seasons like this one.
On July 13 in Onondaga County Judge William Walsh's courtroom, jury
selection began in the murder trial of a man accused of gunning down
Teish Green, a transgendered person whose 22 years on earth ended on
Seymour Street last November. The last sounds Green heard were a series
of anti-gay insults followed by the report of a .22 caliber rifle.
A week earlier ArtRage Gallery in Hawley-Green learned the limits of
tolerance when they put a series of books celebrating gay life and
culture in the window of their new venue. On the Monday morning after
the July 4 holiday, gallery director Rose Viviano came in to find that
someone had defaced the front windows with their opinions. Among other
things, the visitors had scrawled, "There is no such thing as a proud
queer" across a window in front of a poster proclaiming "Generation Q:
Young, Proud, Queer.”
On July 8, Roger Crance, a disabled man with a fondness for malt
liquor, apparently fell into the Inner Harbor while attending a
concert. Crance left behind a few friends, one of them a mentally ill
man who told event security that his friend had fallen into the water.
A three-hour police search concluded that no one was in the water, and
police publicly expressed doubt that the event had ever happened. Since
the witness appeared unstable, and lived at a residence for the
mentally ill, the conclusion was reached that his version of reality
When Crance's body was found five days later, initial police reports
described him as homeless. He was not. Turns out he had a home on the
North Side, which he shared with two others. Not that the police didn't
do their job, but you have to wonder if a similar report from a more
"respectable" member of the audience, even an intoxicated one, might
have elicited a more prolonged search.
One more snapshot from our town this summer. Thanks to the efforts of
soon-to-depart Urban Affairs Editor Maureen Sieh, The
Post-Standard informs us that for the past year Asian refugees
have lived in fear of marauding youths, most of them, reports say,
African-Americans. Newly arrived Syracusans who have survived
oppression in Burma and Bhutan speak of beatings, threats and a climate
of fear in their new home.
What do all these events have in common? They suggest the danger that
we can fall into when we begin to think of someone who is different as
someone who is lesser.
In the wake of these tragedies we see the seeds of hope planted. On the
North Side, community activists are organizing dialogue circles to
promote communication and understanding to bridge the gulf of
experience between the newly arrived Asians and their host community.
Participants in these sessions say they are committed to stepping in
when they see one group insulting or assaulting another. This is good
news, as bigotry counts on the silent acquiescence of good people.
In the case of Teish Green, the district attorney saw fit to prosecute
this murder as a hate crime, and family members of the deceased have
bravely spoken about their support for Green's choice to live as a
woman. In addition, they have called on the state and federal
governments to explicitly cover transgendered people in hate crimes
legislation. Green’s murderer, Dwight DeLee, has since been found
guilty of first degree manslaughter.
Viviano's gallery offers an even more compelling tale of hope. After
she energetically spread the word of what had happened, she invited the
community to come out in the daylight to write messages of
understanding and support on the windows at ArtRage. By the end of the
day on Friday, July 10, good news covered the windows--hopeful messages
that eclipsed the ignorant graffiti that had defaced the building under
cover of darkness.
The history books may record this as the summer of Barack Obama. Our
local history will remember the quiet heroes: a Rose on the Near North
Side, the Greens on the West, the people who stood up to those who
would bully our new Asian neighbors. They remind us that diversity is
not celebrated just by pointing to the expanding rainbow in our
nation's leadership. It is won in the streets, in the day-to-day
struggles of unyielding people who insist that what binds us together
is greater than that which sets us apart.