Friday, July 23, 2010

Newark Mayor Silent on Park Slaying;

Wrote 'Disgusted by Gays' OpEd

(Mayor Cory Booker, fourth from the right, installs the LGBTQ Advisory Commission of Newark, NJ, in October 2009. Photo credit: Kimberly Williams, Diesel Life.)

The obvious wasn't clear to me until a reader pointed it out. Newark's Mayor Cory Booker, rumored in some circles to be gay, has said nothing about the slaying of a DeFarra Gaymon on July 16 in a cruising spot in Branch Brook Park. Silence is not acceptable, Mr. Mayor.

Booker is not shy about using his Twitter feed to engage his city when a tragic death occurs, as he did this week:

We had a hit & run tonight on Columbia Ave & S.O. Ave. a 4yr old child was killed. Vehicle involved: blue or black late model Mercedes Benz 8:46 PM Jul 22nd

Suspect from last night's tragic hit & run turned himself in. Thanks 2 the community 4 creating the pressure that produced that result. about 9 hours ago Jul 23rd

He has not Tweeted a thing about Gaymon's death, the circumstances of the victim as a potential gay black man on the down low, the status of a city park's policies regarding gathering spots for adult men, and his agenda for Newark's gay community and gay visitors.

Booker has not issued an official statement or press release on the park slaying and the unfolding aftermath of the Essex County sheriff's office undercover sting targeting gay and down low men.

In a November 2008 Out in New Jersey story about Booker appearing on a local radio program to discuss gay concerns, an important question was raised:

[A listener asked] What, if anything, has changed since the 2003 murder of Sakia Gunn—an LGBT 15-year-old stabbed by an assailant whose advances she rebuffed?

“There’s a consciousness in city officials that we’ve never had before,” Cory Booker began. “There are more people in our city hall now that are aware, are enlightened... They want to see us put an end to intolerance and create a community that’s open to embracing all of its diversities.”[...]

Mayor Booker went on to say, “The reality is we have a city that has a deep intolerance. I know there are many young people out there who are afraid to simply be who they are, who face untold discrimination and abuse. And when you have that clear of a problem going on, there’s absolutely a need to organize and organize better.”

Such comments are in keeping with his generally friendly engagement with gays and supportive of our issues. Toward that end, in October 2009 he established the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Advisory Commission, and Diesel Net wrote about the members and their activist/life histories.

There is a troubling anti-gay stain on his resume, which was reported on by the Star Ledger in October 2000, before he became mayor:

In a way, Booker has been crafting his image his whole life. [...] There have been times, he concedes now, when the crafting went too far.

As a columnist at his college newspaper, Booker wrote about how much he once hated gay people. “I was disgusted by gays,” he wrote in the Stanford Daily in 1990. “The thought of two men kissing each other was about as appealing as a frontal lobotomy.”

Booker says now that he was “exaggerating a bit” to make a point about tolerance. [...]

That college paper's online archive doesn't go back that far, and I hesitate to read too much into the very small excerpt from Booker's 1990 essay, especially given this week's shameful Shirley Sherrod incident, but let's keep this at the back of the mind as we push him to address the Gaymon slaying.

The final word tonight goes to longtime civil rights advocate Bill Dobbs, who shares his views on the case and the mayor at this point, one week after the slaying:

It was an Essex County sheriff’s officer in plain clothes who shot and killed Dean Gaymon. I’m told the Essex County Sheriff, for years now, has been responsible for law enforcement in Branch Brook Park; it is no longer the job of Newark Police. I’d love to know the amount of resources used on the park sting operation over the last 18 months, how many officers were involved.

Booker and the Newark cops have a convenient excuse if questions are raised about the Gaymon case, they can point to the Sheriff. But If Booker has a heart he’s got to condemn the killing and join the push for a thorough investigation by an outside agency such as the state attorney general.

Although there are important sex and sexual orientation aspects to this case, it must not be forgotten that Gaymon’s death was at the hands of law enforcement. So far the Essex County Sheriff refuses to identify the officer who took Gaymon’s life.

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